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Lost Paradise 


A Lost Paradise 


In life there is really no great or small thing. 

All things are of equal 'value and of equal size. 

OSCAR WILDE, De Profundis 


L. C. catalog card member: 54-7202 
Samuel Chotzinoff, 


Copyright 1953, *PJT by SAMUEL CHOTXINOFF, 1934 by THE CURTIS 
PUBLISHING COMPANY. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be 
reproduced in any form 'without permission in 'writing from the pub- 
lisher, except by a re t vie r wer r who may quote brief passages in a re t vie r w to 
be printed in a magazine or newspaper. Published si?nultaneously in 
Canada by JVLcClelland <& Ste<wart Limited. Manufactured in the United 
States of America. 


A shorter version of the chapter entitled "Mr. Harris" appeared 
originally in THE NEW YORKER, and a section of the chapter entitled 
"The Fountain" appeared originally as "East Side Boyhood" in 




CHAPTER I The Healing Earth PAGE 3 

II Mr. Harris 33 

III Life on Stanton Street 57 

IV The Fountain 80 
V The Theater 93 

VI Euterfe on Henry Street 109 

VII Mr. Silver i Individualist 130 

VIII "Then We Were Eight" 147 


IX Hannah 158 

X Business Affairs 1 8 1 

XI The Freedom Method 193 

XII A Connecticut Interlude i 212 

XIII A Connecticut Interlude 2 245 

XIV Widening Horizons 278 
XV A Paradise of the Rich 3 1 8 

XVI Sergei 3 34 

XVII Debut 344 

Lost Paradise 


Healing Earth 


f THE 

r HEN, through the proddings of that species of 
vanity which makes some people believe that their lives have 
had a special significance and are therefore worthy to be re- 
corded, I undertook to write these memoirs, I was discon- 
certed to discover that my family (and I, too, for that matter) 
had kept no records. Neither births, deaths, nor marriages 
had ever been inscribed in Bibles or other sacred books. I 
should not have wondered at this, having been told as a child 
that it is forbidden to deface God's utterance or the chronicles 
and opinions of holy men. But I had hoped to find the infor- 
mation I was seeking set down in journals, diaries, letters, 
and on the flyleaves of profane books. I should have known 
better; indeed, I did know better. For in so orthodox and so 
poor a Jewish household as ours there were no journals, 
diaries, or letters that survived their perusal, and no profane 


I cannot recall ever seeing legal documents of any sort 
around the house except rny father's identification papers as a 
Jew and a legal resident of our home town of Vitebsk, on the 
Dvina River, in the "government" of Vitebsk. And I became 
acutely aware of this sinister paper only because at alarmingly 
frequent intervals it was held by the local police to be not in 
order. Since no one ever tampered with this document, it was 
difficult to understand how anything could ever be wrong with 
it. The discovery of its irregularity always occurred in the 
dead of night and was heralded by a great knocking on the 
door, which aroused the entire family and even the neighbors. 
While the rest of us hovered trembling with fear in the back- 
ground, my father, looking fatalistically resigned in his long 
underwear, would admit the two policemen (they always came 
in pairs) and automatically and without inquiring into the 
reason for their untimely visit produce his papers. And while 
the two pretended to scrutinize the documents (the Russian 
police in general never learned to read), my father would 
dress himself with the celerity of an actor making a quick 
change in a farce that was enjoying a long run. The three 
would then depart for the station house, whither my mother, 
her toilette taking longer than my father's, would follow vSoon 
after, in her hand the two rubles she would by then have 
borrowed from neighbors who had also been aroused by the 
clamor. And having, after many lengthy formalities, paid the 
fine for the alleged irregularities the identification papers re- 
vealed to the cursory scrutiny of the sergeant at the desk, my 
parents would return home and the family would resume their 
interrupted rest. 

Important family events were remembered and placed as 
to time by the concurrence of noteworthy happenings in the 
outside world. Thus it appeared that I came down with the 
measles the day after the great fire broke out in the Gover- 
nor's Mansion on the "other" side of the river. That, by 
backward computation, would fix my age at the period of my 

The Healing Earth 5 

malady at around three. Similarly, I received my first haircut 
deemed a solemn occasion in the life of a Jewish male 
during the great drought which lasted a month, the reluctant 
heavens finally succumbing to the pressure of a series of spe- 
cial all-night prayers by the town's most pious Jews. Fires 
were, perhaps, the greatest aid to memory, for there was 
hardly a conflagration, great or small, that was not associated 
with a birth, death, marriage, or family event of even minor 
importance. Other outside happenings also served as memory 
posts, some tragic and some tragicomic, such as the death of 
the pampered young son of a close neighbor, who succumbed 
after consuming four dozen oversized latkes (potato pan- 
cakes) which his doting mother, unable to deny him, had 
fried and served up to him. By a rare coincidence it was on 
that very day that my great-aunt Shprinze ran away with a 
"goy" and was never heard of again. And any reference to 
the unhappy fate that overtook our neighbor's hedonistic 
child brought with it a reminder of the shame to her family 
caused by my great-aunt's elopement. 

Owing to the absence of recorded data, the ages of the 
members of our family remained approximations. We were 
"about" so many years old, having been born "around" the 
beginning, middle, or end of whatever year and month some 
memorable external event had taken place. Along with wars, 
pestilences, pogroms, the accession of tsars or their deaths, 
either natural or by assassination at the hands of what my 
father called "godless terrorists," the more important Jewish 
holidays helped to identify and place in some sort of chrono- 
logical order the high points of our family history. Some of 
us were born on the eve of such holidays or even on the very 
day. Such birthdays were the more easily catalogued and 
remembered. My mother herself had been born so close to the 
first day of Passover (and in the year of the Great Plague, at 
that!) that my grandmother, overanxious to put her house in 
a kosher state for the holidays, left her lying-in bed prema- 


turely and set about scouring and dusting, and in consequence 
suffered poor health for the rest of her life, 

My mother "thought" that her marriage to my father might 
have taken place "around" the time of the pogrom in Su~ 
walki. And on investigation many years later I found that 
tragic event to have taken place in 1888. And since there was 
a recollection that I was born one year later, 1889 was clearly 
the year of my birth. My mother had been married twice 
before (this I also learned many years later), and both mar- 
riages had ended in divorce. The divorces, my mother later 
assured me, were obtained by her on the grounds of inebriety, 
certainly a remarkable coincidence, it seemed to me, in the 
failings of two husbands otherwise different in temperament 
and character. Habitual drunkenness served not uncommonly 
as grounds for divorce, though it did not have the major 
importance of sterility in women, failure to produce a male 
child, or impotence in men. Still, while the charge of drunken- 
ness may have been acceptable to the rabbi who sat in judg- 
ment, I find it hard to believe that my mother would have 
resorted to the extremity of divorce for so human a failing. 
Furthermore, she had borne each of her husbands a girl, and 
the welfare of the two little children was a consideration that 
must have counted against the solution of her domestic prob- 
lems by divorce. My mother was strong-minded and strong- 
willed, ready and even eager to adjust herself to the frailties 
of those she loved. Where her emotions were involved she 
could summon endless reserves of patience and endurance. It 
is highly probable, therefore, that her emotions were not in- 
volved in her first two marriages. And rather than live out 
her days unloving, to her a more depressing condition than 
unloved, she would suffer the obloquy of a twice-divorced 
woman in order to retain at least the hope of some future 
emotional fulfillment. 

Whatever her motives, her determination to keep herself 
free at all costs for some problematic destiny was highly un- 

The Healing Earth 7 

conventional for those times. To give it respectability she 
required the sympathy and approval of some powerfully 
placed and greatly respected person in the town and neighbor- 
hood. She did not have far to look. Her own father, Reb 
Shnayer Tresskanov, was the most idolized, the most re- 
spected savant in Vitebsk and within a radius of at least 
seventy miles. What was more, my mother was his favorite 
among his six children. She had always known it, though he 
had shown to the world the conventional preference of Jewish 
fathers for their male offspring. She understood him, not 
perhaps rationally, but instinctively, and she loved him de- 
votedly, even while she wondered at the extremes of piety 
and generosity his mystical nature drove him to. Abhorring 
the very idea of favoritism, he was secretly indulgent to my 
mother and prone to overlook lapses of propriety in her that 
he would not tolerate in his other daughters. Many years ago, 
when the crinoline came into fashion among goyirn, it was 
tacitly assumed that it was no proper garment for well- 
brought-up Jewish girls and women. Walking one day in the 
public park, my grandfather came face to face with his eldest 
daughter, Rivkeh, then a pretty girl of eighteen. He could 
hardly believe his eyes! Rivke was clad in the billowing, ir- 
religious, goyish abomination, the crinoline! My grandfather 
seized his daughter by her wrists and commanded her to re- 
move the offending garment instantly. Adamant against her 
plea to be permitted to return home, there to discard her dress 
and never to wear it again, he insisted on its immediate re- 
moval in plain view of the crowd that had collected around 
them. The crinoline finally fell to the ground, and the sobbing 
Rivke, stepping out of it clad only in a petticoat, made her 
escape. My mother contended that had she herself been the 
culprit, her father would have spared her the humiliation he 
had not hesitated to inflict on her sister. 

In her divorce proceedings my mother undoubtedly had the 
support of her father. The rabbi who tried both cases must 


have taken into account Reb Shnayer's tacit acquiescence, for 
he curtailed the proceedings, ruling quickly in my mother's 
favor and giving her the custody of her two little girls. With 
them she discreetly retired to her father's small farm in the 
near-by village of Serotchaya, there to abide unnoticed until 
the sensation of her second marital fiasco had died down to the 
point where marriage again might become a probability. She 
was still fairly young and personable, and the numerous 
matchmakers in the town and surrounding country would be 
sure to find, after a decent interval, some hard-pressed 
widower whose need of a mother for his children would out- 
weigh my mother's unfavorable marital record. Nor would 
so perplexed a widower be inclined to overlook the modest 
marriage portion my grandfather was prepared to contribute. 
But, above all, the matchmakers relied on the potency of my 
grandfather's fame and reputation. The prospect of a relation- 
ship with so saintly a personage was to be the real bait. 

For two years my mother lived quietly in Serotchaya* 
working in the fields, milking the cow, feeding the chickens, 
and making herself generally useful about the place and to 
her mother. Then one day a shadchen (marriage broker) ap- 
peared with the news that the ideal widower had by the 
greatest good fortune become available. The prospect was a 
youngish man, only some seven years older than my mother, 
handsome, sober, pious, and by profession a teacher of lie- 
brew to the young. Ambition, too, he had. For he hoped some 
day to become a minor rabbi and engage in schkitte (ritual 
slaughter), circumcision, and the performance of marriages. 
His wife had died the previous year in giving birth to a girl, 
their sixth child. And now, the proper interval of mourning 
having been observed, the widower stood in need & a mother 
for his children and a presentable mate for himself. 

There was a flaw, however, in the picture the shadchen 
drew, which my grandfather quickly brought to light, one 
which in any case could not have long remained concealed. It 

The Healing Earth 9 

transpired that the prospective bridegroom's father was a 
tailor, than which no profession stood lower in general esti- 
mation. On the face of it an alliance between a tailor and a 
rabbi so renowned as my grandfather would be out of the 
question. But against this apparently insurmountable obstacle 
the shadchen opposed the damaging circumstance of my 
mother's divorces, to say nothing of her two little girls, who 
would be a serious addition to the widower's already large 
family. A woman so vulnerable, he argued, was in no position 
to choose. The existence of the tailor, however, while de- 
plorable, was not generally known. Most fortunately, the 
shadchen pointed out, the widower and his father lived in Ula, 
a town several hours distant from Vitebsk. Now, it is one 
thing to be allied to a tailor in one's own town, and quite 
another to have the disreputable relation residing, obscurely, 
at a great distance away. On the other hand, the widower, 
residing in Ula, could not have heard much, if anything, about 
my mother in faraway Vitebsk. The shadchen now confessed 
that he had deemed it prudent to acquaint Mayshe Baer 
Chatianov, the widower, with only one of my mother's mar- 
riages. Nor had he mentioned the existence of the two little 
girls. In a kind of triumphant peroration the shadchen prophe- 
sied that some time after the proposed marriage had settled 
into happy domesticity my mother could safely disclose the 
existence of her children. In any case her husband would then 
be faced with &fait accompli. 

Distasteful as this deception must have appeared to my 
mother and her father, they were forced to accept the 
shadchen' s dictum that it would be flying in the face of prov- 
idence to jeopardize, by refusing to postpone the truth for a 
little time, a match so suitable from every point of view. The 
shadchen had worked everything out in advance. And having 
succeeded in overcoming all objections and scruples that were 
advanced, he proceeded to outline his plan. My grandfather 
and his daughter were to journey to Ula and pay a formal 


call on the tailor. This would be recognized as a deliberate 
piece of condescension and would so gratify the latter as to 
dissipate any idea of the proposed alliance being disadvan- 
tageous to his son, in the event that rumor and gossip relating 
to my mother had already reached Ula. To keep the tailor 
forever at a safe remove, the widower and his six children 
were to be invited to take up residence with the new bride in 
Vitebsk in a house that my grandfather would purchase for 
the couple, himself to make a substantial down payment and 
the groom to undertake the payment of the rest of the sum in 
monthly installments. 

The shadchen's plan was approved and duly carried out. My 
grandfather was no snob, though he was not above the preju- 
dices of his time. He carried off his visit to the elder Chatianov 
with quiet dignity and a naturalness that both impressed the 
tailor and put him at his ease. Nor did the visitor attempt to 
evade the subject of his host's embarrassing profession. On 
the contrary, he introduced the subject early at their first 
meeting and expressed a wish to examine the shop and see for 
himself the place from which the elite of Ula were outfitted. 
My father and mother were ceremoniously introduced to each 
other. The shadchen, being present and acting as chaperon 
and manager, reported the meeting to my grandfather as 
having been successful, even more than he had hoped. The 
shadchen was a great believer in a man and a woman getting 
a glimpse of each other before the marriage ceremony. Such a 
meeting, if immediately rewarding, might at once lay the 
foundation for a happy future; and if momentarily disappoint- 
ing, it at least gave the couple time to adjust their former hopes 
to the reality they would face on their wedding day and after. 
My father was sufficiently pleased with the face and figure of 
my mother to admit as much later to the shadchen, and to 
confide, in a burst of confidence, that he had had his first 
glimpse of his late wife when he lifted her veil at the marriage 
ceremony. He was then only seventeen and the bride was 

The Healing Earth 1 1 

ten years his senior. The shadchen surmised that there must 
have been other elements of disparity which my father quite 
properly refrained from mentioning. As for my mother, the 
shadchen reported that she had been much taken with my 
father. Through long experience in such delicate matters the 
shadchen prided himself on an ability to penetrate the craftiest 
dissimulation. He was now ready to swear on the heads of 
his children that my mother loved the widower at first sight. 
The wedding followed duly. The house in Vitebsk was 
purchased and furnished by my grandfather and the family 
moved in. My father's six children ranged in age from the 
year-old Sarah to Albert, a youth of about nineteen or twenty. 
In between were Hodde (renamed Gertie in America), seven- 
teen, Leyke (Lea), fourteen, Zalman (Solomon), eight, and 
Lcbbe (Louis), five. My mother at once gave herself up 
fully to the duties of a wife and mother. Her energy and 
vitality were inexhaustible and she marketed, cooked, washed, 
swept, and mended from earliest morning to bedtime. With 
the assistance of my grandfather my father established a 
cheder (Hebrew school) in an untenanted house at the end of 
town. The pupils were few at first, but grew in number as 
my father began to be talked of as a strict disciplinarian and a 
specialist in the treatment of pampered or backward children. 
My grandfather contributed to the success of the cheder by 
not neglecting to put in a word about the solidity and extent 
of the learning of his new son-in-law where it would be most 
effective, with fathers of prospective pupils. Albert and 
Zalman, the two elder boys, were apprenticed to a carpenter. 
They received no pay, but were guaranteed their midday 
dinner. Lebbe joined the pupils in his father's cheder. Hodde 
being of a marriageable age, my father considered it best for 
her not to engage in remunerative labor, but to stay at home 
to await her destined suitor, she in the meantime assuming 
(voluntarily, as he stipulated) some of the lighter chores of 
the household; nor was the younger Leyke to overtax her 


strength in helping out at home. He was a just man, he be- 
lieved, but he wished my mother to know that he hadn't 
married her in order to make slaves of his children. 

He was in general pleased with the way things had worked 
out for him. He had been happy to leave his native town for a 
large city far away where his father's profession (he respected 
his father) was more a rumor than a fact. His alliance with 
the daughter of a famous and well-loved rabbi afforded him 
constant self-satisfaction, while the comeliness, comparative 
youth, industry, and common sense of his new wife were all 
that a man with six children could reasonably ask for. He 
could not, however, forget that she had been, after all, a 
divorced woman and consequently lacked the respectability of 
a widow. And in moments of domestic friction he did not 
scruple to remind her that she had had the better of the bargain 
in their marriage. He was a born conformist and he adopted 
without question all current traditions and prejudices. His 
credo included a mistrust of all stepmothers, which itself was 
a corollary to the self-evident proposition that one could love 
only one's own flesh and blood. And since no exceptions were 
to be admitted, he was convinced that even with the best in- 
tentions my mother could not but resent her stepchildren and 
treat them accordingly. His own observation failed to bear 
out his suspicions, however, and his children did not complain 
of ill-treatment. Indeed, my mother took the greatest care to 
give them no cause for complaint. While she could not pre- 
tend to herself that she found her stepchildren sympathetic, 
she was not the person to fail to carry out an obligation she 
had voluntarily assumed. She could not even blame them for 
being, as she thought, insensitive. What better could one 
expect in the offspring of the oldish, ignorant female who had 
been their mother! (My mother had taken pains to inform 
herself on everything that pertained to the looks and disposi- 
tion of her predecessor.) But she had an even stronger reason 
than duty to play the mother to her stepchildren. She was 

The Healing Earth 1 3 

preparing the ground for the appearance and acceptance of 
her own two children, who were stowed away on her father's 
farm. She had, in fact, little time to lose, for the chances of the 
discovery of her secret grew as the circle of her husband's 
acquaintances widened. Any day someone might innocently 
or maliciously mention the little girls to him. 

It was some two months after her marriage that she felt the 
time for the revelation had arrived. That day she made a 
particularly effective demonstration of solicitude for the wel- 
fare of her stepchildren. And in the evening, on returning 
home from cheder, my father found two little girls, neatly 
dressed, sitting side by side on the kitchen bench. They sat 
rigid and unsmiling, as if they were aware of the serious 
nature of their situation. Their stepbrothers and sisters stood 
around, suspicious and ill at ease. Before my father could utter 
a word, my mother, weeping and wringing her hands, rapidly 
made her confession. The two little girls, she told him, were 
the fruit of her former marriage. She had not wished to burden 
him with the knowledge of their existence until she had 
proved herself a true mother to his own children. But now 
that she had proved herself one and she appealed to the 
stepchildren for confirmation he would surely forgive her 
and be a father to her children even as she was a mother to his. 

My father, though outwardly a placid man, was prone to 
outbursts of passionate anger. He listened to my mother 
with mounting rage. She had hardly finished speaking when 
he seized the little girls, hustled them out of the room into 
the courtyard, and shut the door on them. The table had been 
set for supper. But my father, hastily removing his skullcap 
and putting on his hat, ran out of the house. My mother made 
no attempt to detain him. When he was gone, she went out 
into the courtyard and brought back her children, who, be- 
wildered and too frightened to cry, had not moved from the 
spot where my father had dumped them. Later that night my 
mother dispatched Zalman with a basket of food to the cheder, 


where she guessed her husband had taken refuge. She impro- 
vised a bed for the two girls on the kitchen floor, and when 
they fell asleep she put on her shawl and left the house. By 
midnight she was at her father's house in Serotchaya. He had 
not yet retired, and the two conversed earnestly for a long 
time. Before she left for home, it was agreed that her father 
should visit the cheder early next morning and do his utmost 
to placate her husband. When she reached her own house, 
Mayshe Baer had not returned. As she surmised, he had 
chosen to spend the night in his cheder stretched out on one 
of the benches. 

The next morning her father appeared, bearing the best of 
news. He had just come from the cheder and found his son-in- 
law still smarting from my mother's treachery and the dis- 
comfort of his makeshift bed. My father had demanded a 
speedy divorce to wipe out the shame of a deception that 
would in any case make him the laughingstock of the entire 
city. My grandfather pointed out that not the deception but 
the divorce would make him a laughingstock, since the divorce 
would be the proof that he had been hoodwinked by a clever 
woman. But there was a way to save both his own self-esteem 
and the respect of Vitebsk, and that was for Mayshe Baer to 
welcome the two little girls openly as if he had always known 
about them and they had now merely returned from a pro- 
tracted visit to their grandparents in the country. This sensible 
advice my grandfather had enforced with learned quotations 
in Hebrew and (to my father) obscure commentaries of an- 
cient rabbis bearing on human frailty and the advantages accru- 
ing in heaven to him who pities and forgives. Of course 
Mayshe Baer had finally given in. Only an idiot, my grand- 
father said, could fail to appraise the ridiculous position intran- 
sigence would force on him, and Mayshe Baer was anything 
but a fool. 

My grandfather now cautioned my mother against ex- 
ploiting her victory. She must be tender and understanding, 

The Healing Earth 1 5 

silent and submissive. It would be wise, he thought, if she 
herself repaired to the cheder at lunch time and took her 
husband a bit of food and a towel to wipe his hands on after 
his matutinal ablution. Above all, she was not to reveal her 
father's visit to her or pretend to any knowledge of the scene 
at the cheder that morning. As her father prepared to return 
to Serotchaya, my mother threw her arms around him in 
gratitude for his successful intervention. He kissed the top of 
her head and asked her why she had made only a partial 
confession to her husband about the parentage of her children. 
But before she could reply, he laughed and told her that she 
did right in admitting to only one previous husband. There 
are times, he said, when it is wiser not to strain a man's power 
of endurance, and to confess only one thing at a time. 

I was born punctually nine months after the marriage, be- 
coming my father's fourth son and my mother's first. No note- 
worthy event occurred at the time to highlight the date. But 
my maternal grandmother had died the month before, and her 
death, though for a long time expected, had seriously affected 
my grandfather and, soon after, the well-being of his children. 
At any rate her death and her funeral, a ceremony attended 
out of deference to my grandfather by all the rich and poor 
Jews of Vitebsk and the peasants of Serotchaya, gave my 
birth an approximate date. In the weeks preceding my birth 
my mother made daily trips to Serotchaya on foot to do what 
she could to comfort her father, whose grief seemed to bear no 
relation to his great piety and was a clear denial of his frequent 
assurance to the bereaved and afflicted he used to visit that 
God was merciful and wise and always knew what He was 
doing. Each morning at seven after breakfast, when she had 
given my father and Lebbe their bundles of lunch and sent 
them off to cheder, she would set out for her father's farm. 
She would return home in time to clean up the house and cook 
the evening meal. After supper there were washing and mend- 


ing and sewing to do, and when she had finished and was ready 
for bed it was often nearly time to get up. 

I was a puny baby and a constant anxiety to my mother. 
Like all Jewish wives, she had wanted a son, and her joy at 
having one at last could not be tempered even by the death 
of her mother and her adored father's frightening abandon- 
ment to grief. She watched the fluctuating, thin life in the 
cradle with an apprehension she was unable to conceal from 
her stepchildren, who, for their part, saw no valid reason for a 
further enlargement of an already numerous family. To my 
father I was just another son. A son was, of course, always 
better than a daughter, for both this world and the next, es- 
pecially the next, where the prayers of every male offspring 
for the soul of a dead father are heard and duly registered. 
But my father had had no dearth of sons, and the latest one 
cried all night and kept his wife from his bed. 

On one of my puling, restless nights my mother, sitting 
half-asleep by my cradle, brushed her hand against my fore- 
head in the dark and found to her horror that I was "all 
aflame"! The doctor lived a long way from our house, on the 
"other" side of the river. By the time she got there, roused 
him, and brought him back with her it might be too late! 
She decided instead to run to the apothecary, who lived in the 
back of his shop only half a mile away on "this" side of the 
river, and get him to give her something to bring the child's 
fever down. In the meantime she would wake her husband 
and send him for the doctor. In this way she would have 
taken all possible measures. 

My mother, in relating the incident, said that it took her 
less time to get to the apothecary's house than it did to rouse 
him. He finally put his head out of the window, made out a 
woman's form in the moonlight, hurriedly dressed, and 
opened the door of his shop. All my mother could say to him 
was that her baby was "on fire" and that he must save him. 
He retreated into a back room, whither my mother followed 

The Healing Earth 17 

him, and while she implored him to hurry he concocted a 
medicine and poured it into a bottle. Hardly comprehending 
his precise instructions for its use and quite forgetting to pay 
him, she tore the bottle out of his hand and ran from the shop. 
She prayed aloud as she ran. And all at once a doubt entered 
her mind. Prayer might not be enough! She had heard that 
desperate moments called for the direct intercession of a dead 
person preferably a saintly dead person, but best of all and 
most efficacious a saintly dead person who was also a near 
relative. The image of her mother rose before her. Her 
mother, dead only a month (a most favorable circumstance in 
itself), perhaps not as saintly as her father, but as good and 
pious as it was possible for a woman to be, must intercede in 
heaven for the life of her son. The cemetery lay a good 
distance out of her way home, and a visit to her mother's 
grave would delay the administering of the medicine. But 
that was a chance she must take. She altered her course and 
made for the cemetery, a distraught, disheveled figure running 
in the moonlight, the bottle clasped tightly in both hands for 
safety, the silence exaggerated by the sharp noise of her heels 
on the cobblestones, noise that came after her footsteps, as if 
made by someone close behind her. Frequently she turned her 
head as she ran, to make sure she was alone. 

A cemetery at night was acknowledged to be an awesome 
place even by the most skeptical souls. My mother recalled 
stories she had heard from childhood of persons who through 
godlessness or vainglory had dared to visit a cemetery alone 
at night and who, not surprisingly, were themselves found 
dead beside some gravestone in the morning. My mother now 
remembered that there was no headstone on her mother's 
grave. Until the first anniversary of a death only a pebble or 
rock was permissible on a grave. And now she was uncertain 
just where to look for the grave, and she was conscious of 
precious time slipping past her as she ran through endless 
lanes between graves. At last she found herself on a familiar 


path, and soon she came upon the small, still fresh mound 
she had been seeking. Too much time had already been lost! 
She threw herself passionately on the grave, and as she did 
so, the bottle flew out of her hands and hit the ground. She 
retrieved it instantly, but the fall had decapitated it and the 
precious liquid now stained the grave. There was no time 
now to appeal to her mother. She scrambled to her feet and, 
clutching the jagged bottle, fled at top speed through the 
narrow lanes, out of the cemetery gates, and through the 
shuttered, echoing streets. For a moment she had considered 
returning to the apothecary's, but she abandoned the idea 
when she remembered the doctor, who must certainly have 
arrived at her home by now. 

When, breathless, she reached home, the doctor was there 
sitting beside the cradle and writing a prescription on a little 
pad on his knee. He took no notice of my mother or of my 
father and some of the older children who stood respectfully 
at a distance. Nobody, under any circumstances, ever ad- 
dressed the doctor first. And now my mother stared mutely 
at my crimson face in the cradle and waited motionlessly for 
the doctor to finish writing. He took a long time. When he 
was through, he folded the paper leisurely and said, without 
looking at my mother: "You are a foolish woman. An apothe- 
cary knows nothing of medicine. He can only do what he is 
told by a doctor. What did he give you?" My mother handed 
him the broken bottle. Still without looking at her, he held 
it to his nose, glanced at the label, and tossed it on the floor, 
where it smashed to bits. He rose to go. "But God takes care 
of the foolish," he said at the door. "That medicine would 
have killed your child! Go back now and have that idiot Ell 
this prescription." My mother seized the doctor's hand and 
kissed it reverently. This the doctor suffered patiently and 
indifferently, like royalty, which indeed he symbolized to his 
poorer clients. When he made a call in winter he would throw 

The Healing Earth 19 

back his fur-lined overcoat, certain that some member of the 
family would stand behind him waiting with outstretched 
arms to catch and hold it up at arm's length for the duration 
of the visit. He disdained all forms of greeting as tending to 
encourage familiarity. My mother hastened to open the door 
for him and he left the house silently, his eyes on the ground. 

My oldest brother was immediately dispatched to the 
apothecary, and my father, on learning the details of the 
miraculous mishap at the cemetery, agreed that my life had 
been saved by the direct, though unsolicited intervention of 
my grandmother. He urged my mother to lose no time in 
thanking her. And my mother, losing no time, put on her 
shawl again and went back to the cemetery, where she 
stretched herself prone on her mother's grave and remained 
a long time, thanking her and weeping tears of gratitude and 

After that happy catastrophe of the medicine bottle my 
mother sought her mother's grave directly anyone she loved 
was threatened by calamity or disease, confident that the 
beneficent shade would not fail her. It did, however, fail her 
once. A year after I was born, my mother gave birth to an- 
other son, an ailing infant who died after some weeks of a 
feeble straggle to survive. As the child grew worse, my 
mother increased her visits to the cemetery both morning 
and evening, but to no avail. She went again the day after 
the baby's funeral, but it was not to reproach her mother. 
Instead she implored her to be increasingly watchful over me. 
For it was now clear to her that for some reason best known 
to herself her mother desired that I should remain an only 
son. After all, I had been saved and my little brother had been 
allowed to perish. I must be, then, my grandmother's special 
charge. But since the dead were known to be, at times, as 
forgetful as the living, it was only prudent to remind them, 
occasionally, of certain obligations they had assumed. My 


mother maintained that except for the unfortunate lapse in 
the case of my infant brother my grandmother never wavered 
in her protection of persons dear to her daughter. My mother 
would recall the anxious days when her own daughters, 
Hannah and Mirele, came down with typhoid. They were 
critically ill for a long time, their heads having to be shaved 
and the room kept in sernidarkness. I, who was four or five 
at the time, laughed to see them without hair, but I was 
obliged to stop up my ears to shut out the sound of their loud 
and quite incoherent prattle. For, notwithstanding the doctor's 
frequent visits, they were often out of their heads. At length 
my mother in desperation sought the familiar grave in the 
cemetery. After some agonized visits the girls' fever abated 
and they presently rested cool and silent. The doctor, for 
once deigning to speak, said that he had steered them safely 
past the crisis. My mother kissed his hand and thanked him. 
But in her heart she knew better. 

When I was five years old, I became a pupil in my father's 
cheder. I had learned the alphabet at home in order to qualify 
for the youngest group. Though my mother often complained 
about my being around all day trailing at her skirts and getting 
in her way, she pleaded for another year of indolence for me. 
But my father was adamant; and each morning at seven we 
set out for cheder, I holding his hand as we walked or, grow- 
ing fatigued, trailing behind him, with the bundle of food for 
our lunch which my mother had prepared and given me under 
my arm. 

My father's cheder was now well established in the town. 
In the six years he had lived and taught in Vitebsk he had 
earned a reputation for probity and discipline, if not for 
erudition. He began to be looked upon as an authority on the 
upbringing of boys, more especially of intractable ones; and 
parents came to the cheder to consult him about aspects of 

The Healing Earth 2 1 

their children's behavior which would ordinarily be outside 
the concern and jurisdiction of a teacher of Hebrew. We soon 
learned that the purpose of these seemingly friendly parental 
calls was in every case punitive. 

I remember how surprised I was when the parents of one 
of the best-behaved and most studious boys called unex- 
pectedly one day toward lunch time. My father, after greeting 
them affably, sent us out of the room. When we were re- 
assembled we could see by the cold, determined look on my 
father's face and the uneasiness of the visitors that my father, 
after hearing and judging the complaint, had recommended 
severe punishment, to be administered by himself as a disin- 
terested outsider. In cheder the boy had always been a model 
of behavior, but, obviously, he was not so at home. His guilt 
was now evident, for he began to look furtively around the 
room as if for an avenue of escape. My father called to him 
in a voice that I had often heard at home, a cool, impersonal 
voice, as deceptive as the dull whiteness of molten steel. The 
boy, disregarding my father's command, ran to his mother 
instead, who herself made a protecting movement toward him; 
but her husband barred her way. My father seized the dis- 
tracted boy with one hand and with the other undid his own 
leather belt. He then shoved the boy face down across his 
knee. As he wielded the belt, my father's face grew white 
with rage. The rhythm of his strokes imparted a correspond- 
ing rhythm to his speech: "So! You are good in che der 
and bad at home! -So! You thought you would never 
be found out! This will teach you. . . ." The boy's 
mother murmured softly : "Enough enough . . ."My father 
kept on administering his strokes with restrained, deliberate 
fury. At last the boy's father interposed: "Enough, Mayshe 
Baer enough. We are satisfied. 77 My father dropped the boy 
to the floor and replaced his belt. The boy's father led his 
sobbing wife from the room. "Thank you, Mayshe Baer," he 


said weakly as he opened the street door; "we are both 
greatly obliged to you.'' 

As the rabbi's son, I was a power in cheder. Not so my 
stepbrother Lebbe, who should have taken precedence over 
me in that respect by reason of seniority. For some reason 
Lebbe was considered just one among a dozen boys. He was 
obviously not influential, and the boys made free with him 
as if he was one of themselves and not the son of the rabbi. 
Lebbe was taciturn and afraid of his father, and on our walk 
to and from cheder he either ran ahead of us or walked far 
behind. My position was altogether different. It was true 
that I had as little influence with my father as Lebbe had, but 
the attitude of the boys toward me indicated that they be- 
lieved I might have more if I so desired. I did nothing to 
disillusion them. I went about with a knowing look and suf- 
fered them to pamper me. They gave me pieces of candy 
and things they prized and carried in their pockets, like pieces 
of string and bottle corks, with the tacit understanding that 
in the event of their incurring the displeasure of the rabbi I 
would divert his wrath or at least mitigate the severity of 
their punishment. That I could not or did not carry out my 
part of the bargain had no effect on the boys' generosity to 
me or on my leading' position in the school. As for myself, 
my father had thus far never laid a hand on me in cheder, and 
as time went on I felt more and more certain of my immunity. 
Boys were flogged for sins committed in cheder or for those 
reported by harassed parents, but it was to me unthinkable 
that I should ever find myself in the humiliating position 1 
had so frequently witnessed. 

But one day, long remembered for the violent contrast be- 
tween the pleasant serenity of its beginning and the mental 
anguish I endured before it was ended, I became aware of a 
change in my father's ordinarily patient and sometimes even 
indulgent attitude toward me in cheder. It was my turn to 

The Healing Earth 2 3 

read a paragraph In Genesis. It was a new chapter for the 
class, and I read my Hebrew lines cautiously and certain 
words haltingly. Looking up at him inquiringly, as I was 
wont to do when in difficulties, I caught a look in his eyes that 
I had seen often enough directed at other boys, but never at 
me. He prodded the recalcitrant word on the page with his 
forefinger and said "Nu! (Well!)" in a cold, menacing voice. 
The other boys around the table looked up from their books 
in astonishment, and a hush fell on all the other tables. I was 
quite taken aback. Could it be that my father had discovered 
that I had been trading on our relationship and accepting 
bribes and that he was seizing a pretext to put me in my 
proper place as an ordinary member of the class, like Lebbe, 
and at the same time was serving notice on the boys that I 
was powerless to influence him on their behalf? What else 
could his strange behavior signify? I had mispronounced and 
stumbled over words before with no resultant show of dis- 
pleasure on his part. The sober atmosphere of the room seemed 
to confirm my own sense of the gravity of the situation. I felt 
that there was only one thing that I might do: I had quickly 
to deflect my father's mounting wrath from myself to some- 
one else. I heard myself say coolly and quite deliberately: 
"Yesterday I saw her hit Sarah with the broom." 

I knew that my father was always on the watch for any 
evidence of mistreatment by my mother of her stepchildren. 
I had hit him in his most vulnerable spot. To mistreat his 
"motherless" Sarah not only was to prove his contention that 
stepmothers as a class had to be cruel to their stepchildren, 
but was also a blow at his own position as head of the house 
and protector of his children. Thus far he had been unable to 
find such proof, though he had succeeded by his watchfulness 
and suspicion in creating the very tensions and antagonisms he 
so feared. If my mother sent one of his children on an errand, 
he wondered why she hadn't sent one of her own instead. And 
when she felt obliged to be sharp with them (she took care 


to be sharper with her own), he would call them his "or- 
phans" to their faces, to my mother's embarrassment and 

Faced with sudden danger, I had lied to save myself; for I 
had not seen my mother hit Sarah with a broom. And I was 
saved, I could see, at least for the present. My father said: 
"Takke? (Really?),' 7 and then repeated the word. It was his 
favorite expression, and it served many purposes. Unlettered 
as he was except for a literal knowledge of the Bible and a few 
commentaries in Hebrew, it was for him a basic word, whose 
meaning could be altered by mere intonation. By raising or 
lowering his voice, by stress or lack of it, by coldness or 
intensity of delivery it could indicate a simple query (takke?}, 
indignation (takkef), naive perplexity (takke?) -indeed, 
every variety of incredulity or the coldly savage acceptance 
of a challenge. I now understood perfectly the implications of 
his reiterated "takke!" The first was simple incredulity, the 
second an outburst of lacerated pride, with savage overtones 
of terrible retribution that would be shaped and carried out in 
due course. Then he fell silent, his forefinger still pressing 
the fatal word in my book. He stared into space over the 
heads of the boys, and his face flushed and went white al- 
ternately as waves of anger washed over him, and at each 
recession thoughts of revenge rushed into the vacancy; at 
least the determined, brutal expression of his features seemed 
to me the plastic embodiment of vengeance. He had quite for- 
gotten me and whatever reprimand he had designed to put 
me in my place. He seemed lost to any consideration but that 
of the enormity of my mother's treachery and of the epic 
punishment he would devise. After a while he became con- 
scious of the boys in the room and he got up and moved to the 
table for the advanced students. Outwardly he looked himself 
again, and he conducted the lesson with his usual impersonal 
efficiency. But I knew that he was pigeonholing his wrath and 
his ideas of vengeance for the rest of the day. 

The Healing Earth 2 5 

Later, walking home behind him, I became aware of the 
new danger that awaited me when we reached the house. For, 
of course, my mother would deny the accusation and her 
stepdaughter would bear her out. I thought of my mother and 
how much I loved her, and I wondered at myself for having 
planned to hurt her. She would never believe that I had meant 
to hurt her. I must tell her, I must make it clear that in doing 
what I did I hadn't thought of her at all, but only of myself. 
I must tell my father right away, and then perhaps my 
mother need never know. As for myself, the worst my father 
could do was to beat me. At the moment I felt I could face 
anything but my mother's bewildered, reproachful look. I 
hastily overtook my father and seized his hand, which, to my 
surprise, he suffered me to take. And as I ran beside him to 
keep pace with his rapid strides I confessed to the lie. He 
did not believe me at first, and dropped my hand in anger. 
But when I told him that he could learn the truth from Sarah 
herself, he said nothing more and I took his hand again. 
Once he paused to ask me why I had lied to him in the first 
place, and I, lying again, said I didn't know. But I implored 
him to say nothing about my sin to my mother. He did keep 
my secret, perhaps for reasons of his own. And after several 
weeks had passed and I grew more certain that he would not 
give me away, I promised myself as an act of atonement to 
make a full confession to my mother at the earliest favorable 
moment. Many opportunities presented themselves, but none, 
in my opinion, was favorable. And in time the incident itself 
passed out of my mind. In cheder my status remained un- 
altered. My successful maneuver had increased my prestige 
with the boys, and I continued to be the object of flattery and 
the recipient of unsolicited, yet none the less welcome, gifts. 

The situation at home as it presented itself to a boy of six 
without any knowledge of the true relationship of the pro- 
tagonists or of the nature of the passions involved was often 
baffling, but almost always dramatic. I felt that tensions were 


intermittently at play in the overcrowded house, and I grew 
to anticipate the periodic, open clashes with a certain pleasur- 
able horror, as later, when I began to attend the theater, I 
would look forward with a like emotion to the denouement 
of a tragic play. My earliest recollection of the charged at- 
mosphere of my home is that of an interminable game played 
by apparently evenly matched forces, now one side trium- 
phant, now the other, myself a passionate spectator absorbed 
in the battle, favoring neither side; indeed, often inclined 
through love of mischief or out of what 1 thought self-interest 
to play one side against the other. But soon after, as my years 
and sensibility grew, I realized that my sympathies and in- 
terests lay with the side I loved best, the side of my mother 
and my half-sisters, Hannah and Mirele. 

Those two still unwanted girls, young as they were, had 
been diplomatically put to work at a tobacconist's to package 
cigarettes for a few kopeks a day. This meagerly rewarded 
employment provided my mother with a defense against her 
husband's frequent charge that the girls were eating him out 
of house and home. Hannah and Mirele were attractive and 
sensitive. They differed, however, in temperament. Hannah, 
the elder of the two, was patient and long-suffering, always 
eager to avoid battle with the women of my father's faction. 
Mirele was high-spirited and impetuous, eager to engage the 
enemy and highly proficient in counterabuse and invective. 
The two clung to each other and to my mother and me, 
though they often quarreled with each other and pulled each 
other's hair, so that it seemed to me they must remain bitter 
enemies thereafter. But they always made up quickly, did 
little offices for each other, and were inseparable. And they 
showed plainly that they loved me. 

My position in the house was unique. Though I belonged, 
naturally, to my mother's camp, I was, through my father, 
also a member of the opposite faction. I was, in fact, inviolate. 
My father's other children perhaps envied me my pleasant 

The Healing Earth 2 7 

status, but they were never hostile and very often friendly. 
My father seemed to like me; at least he was less aloof and 
impersonal with me than with his other sons. As for my 
mother, whose affection I craved most, I thought for a long 
time I had no rival there. There was, of course, my father. 
I cannot say how I became aware of the danger from that 
quarter to my supremacy in my mother's heart. There were 
no visible signs in the demeanor of my parents to each other 
that I might construe as danger signals. Their life at home was 
a long truce, frequently and rather unaccountably interrupted 
by skirmishes and great battles. During these my father 
rather monotonously concentrated on three charges: my 
mother's now historic deception, her hatred of "his" children, 
and her household extravagance. The first left my mother 
mute, but against the other two she defended herself pas- 
sionately. The third did, indeed, defy proof. The family was 
large, the income small. Yet my mother could point to the 
general "decent" look of the house and to the plain fact that 
no one ever complained of hunger. My father could bring up 
the matter of my first pair of shoes, which my mother had 
ordered from the traveling cobbler during his autumn visit, as 
an extravagance in a household operating on an economic 
plane so low as to deny footwear to all but the three oldest 
children. But my mother countered with the claim that since 
her arrangement with the shoemaker called for payment at 
some unspecified future time, there had occurred no actual 
transaction at which money had passed. That being the case, 
a charge of extravagance on that score was obviously absurd. 
The second charge she always denied with a great show of 
moral indignation and contempt for a mind that could so 
misread the humanity and the nobility of her nature. 

Learning was for my mother in the highest degree esti- 
mable, and the learned were the only true elite. She had in- 
stilled this belief in her two daughters and in me. And we, 
developing in our youth, and quite on our own, a feeling for 


the aesthetic, in turn were able to communicate our enthusiasm 
for art to her and make her a sympathetic though vaguely 
comprehending ally in our battle against the philistinism of 
the larger side of our family and, later in life, of the larger 
side of the world. 

For my mother the world separated itself into the learned 
and pious (not the academic, but the mystically pious) and 
the mass of people, whose only problem was that of existence. 
In her father she was privileged to observe at close range the 
operation of learning and piety as a moral and as a humani- 
tarian force. Being of a practical turn of mind, she sometimes 
considered her father's selflessness extreme to the point of 
foolishness. Yet its very extravagance was a proof to her of 
the power of the word of God when it was accepted literally 
as a way of life. 

Judged by these lofty standards, her husband could not 
qualify for either category. His learning was elementary, his 
piety merely doctrinaire. He appeared to be unaware of the 
interdependence of learning and life. She could not escape 
being aware that spiritually there was a gulf between her 
husband and herself. She did not blame him. He had not had 
the good fortune of a cultural past. And without such a herit- 
age one becomes a prey of elementary moods, passions, and 
prejudices that only culture can channel, curb, and modify. 
He was never able to view himself dispassionately. She had 
never known him in moments of rage to pause and exclaim 
in self-criticism, as she was wont to do in like circumstances: 
"May God forgive me!" But if those were her thoughts, she 
never spoke them. And while she openly adored her father 
and refrained from any public demonstrations of affection for 
my father, there were no visible signs of discontent and un- 
happiness on her part. 

Indeed, during the periods of truce a palpable contentment 
would descend on the house. At those times usually born 
of the temporary absence of economic and domestic irritations 

The Healing Earth 29 

my mother went about her chores with an air of satisfaction 
that I found, curiously enough, disturbing. It embraced not 
only her daughters and me, but also the rest of the family. It 
was as if she had decided to renounce her feeling of superiority 
to her husband and stepchildren and to welcome them to her 
own social level. When my father returned from cheder, she 
would come out to the courtyard to greet him, her face newly 
scrubbed, her own hair slightly wet from combing, parted 
carefully in the middle and done up in a bun at the back. (My 
mother had resisted all pressures to make her cut off her 
hair and wear the traditional "sheitel" [wig].) The soup, 
which we ate last, would be scalding so that my father should 
have no cause to complain. After supper my mother and father 
would converse amiably and retire early, often leaving the 
dishes to be washed by the girls. Once my father created a 
sensation by commanding his two elder daughters to clean 
up! There might even be a temporary rapprochement between 
the opposing sides. My youngest sister, Golde, was born 
during one of these harmonious stretches. My father showed 
an unusual solicitude for the health of mother and child, and 
the other children greeted the new arrival in a friendly spirit. 
Because of its long duration, that particular interlude be- 
came historic for me. It was packed with exciting events and 
experiences, made possible by my father's placid frame of 
mind and apparent friendliness toward me. Walking to and 
from cheder, he talked to me about the Tsar, about God, and 
about the miracles attributed to celebrated Chassidic rabbis. 
The Tsar, according to my father, found his vast riches rather 
a nuisance than a pleasure. I laughed to hear that he owned so 
many shirts that for appearance' sake he felt obliged to don 
a new one every hour of the day! God sat in the heavens, 
benign or vengeful, in keeping with the behavior of the people 
on earth. And His memory was stupendous. He forgot nothing, 
as many wrongdoers (that is, those who failed to observe the 
Sabbath or missed a prescribed prayer) found to their dismay 


on Judgment Day. The celebrated Chassidic rabbis all en- 
joyed supernatural powers. One of them, walking with some- 
one just as we were doing at the moment, might suddenly 
disappear into thin air. His astonished companion would con- 
tinue to hear the rabbi's voice uttering words of great wisdom. 
A second later the Chassid would choose to become corporeal 
again. When I gasped at this intelligence, my father smiled 
and looked pleased. But he said such an occurrence was really 
not to be wondered at, as these exceptional persons were on 
speaking terms with God. I saw his point, but it did not lessen 
my wonder. 

He took me one unforgettable Sunday to a large field on 
the outskirts of the town where a great celebration of some- 
thing (I can't remember what) was in progress. Thousands 
of people were assembled, some seated in a grandstand (the 
Governor of the province of Vitebsk was the guest of honor), 
but most standing around in large groups, i heard the music 
of a brass band and watched ladies in spangled tights walking 
across wires strung at perilous heights. The climax of the 
celebration was a balloon ascent, followed by a parachute 
jump by a famous acrobat-comedian. I had never seen a bal- 
loon, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I watched 
the enormous bag rise from the ground and soar into the sky. 
There were two men in the basket under the balloon, and 
one of them climbed over the edge and onto a trapeze that 
swayed underneath. He was the celebrated acrobat-comedian, 
and he performed acrobatic feats that were both hazardous 
and comical, and the crowd gasped and laughed alternately. 
When the balloon had become a tiny ball in the sky the acro- 
bat-comedian, who now looked no bigger than a twig, ceased 
his antics and made ready to jump. His companion leaned 
over the side of the basket and handed him the parachute. 
My father had explained to me the function of this instru- 
ment, telling me to watch closely for the moment it would 
open and bring the man slowly and safely to earth. With the 

The Healing Earth 3 1 

parachute in one hand, the other grasping the wire of the 
trapeze, the little figure stood poised for a long while looking 
down on the sea of faces turned toward him. Then, with a 
great warning shout, which we could all hear plainly, he 
leaped into the air. Straight down he plummeted. I strained 
my eyes to look at the parachute. It refused to open. Sud- 
denly the figure turned head over heels, then fell like a stone 
with a tremendous thud on the roof of a cowshed a few feet 
from where I was standing. There were horrified cries of 
"Save him! Save him!" but he had rolled to the ground and 
lay bloody and inert, the cord of the parachute clutched in his 
hand. A moment later men ran up and carried him away. 
But I had looked closely at him and was bewildered and 
troubled by the sight. It seemed impossible that the little 
gesticulating figure I had seen posturing on the rim of the 
balloon basket had in an instant become the silent, careless 
bundle that lay at my feet. There seemed to be no relation 
between them. 

I had known before about death. A playmate had failed to 
appear on the street for several days, and in explanation I was 
told that he had died. From a window I watched his funeral 
go past my house. I had felt a sense of deprivation. But there 
was also a sense of continuity between the friend I had played 
with and the unseen boy in the pine box that was carried past 
my house. He would go on resting, silent, but in spirit ac- 
cessible to his friends and relations, like my grandmother in 
the same cemetery on the edge of the town. There his mother 
would probably pay him frequent visits and converse with 
him as my mother did with my grandmother. This was not 
the same Death I had seen in the field. But only one of them 
could be the true Death. And because I could not accept and 
live with a Death so final as the brutal and ludicrous one I 
had just witnessed, I chose not to regard it as Death at all. 
I chose to forget its horror and remember it as part of the 
entertainment of an exciting day. 


Soon I was duplicating in our back yard for the boys of the 
neighborhood the entire "show" of that Sunday afternoon, the 
tightwire-walking and the parachute jump, the last being 
negotiated from the slanting roof of our house. As I made the 
leap clutching a folded umbrella in my hand, 1 yelled: "Save 
him! Save him!" And on landing on the ground on my feet 
I collapsed in a ludicrous, ungainly heap and lay motionless, 
while my audience clapped and shouted with delight. 


. Harris 


f f HE 

' HEN I was a boy of eight or nine, at the be- 
ginning of the century, I would often accompany my mother 
to the offices of a charitable organization that looked after the 
welfare of Jewish immigrants arriving in New York from 
overseas. The offices were on East Broadway near Pike 
Street, only a long block from the tenement at East Broadway 
and Rutgers Street in which I lived. The organization sent its 
representatives to meet incoming boats. They would circulate 
among the steerage passengers, assist those who had not been 
met by friends and relatives, do what they could to find them 
temporary lodgings, and take them back to the society's 
offices while they traced their relations or landsleit (fellow 
townsmen). The society was also prepared to advance the 
purchase price of steamship tickets to people who desired to 
bring members of their families to America, but who did not 


possess the necessary cash. The arrangement required no de- 
posit of collateral, but the society investigated the ability of 
the borrowers to meet the small weekly payments (without 
interest) toward their liquidation of the debt. My mother, 
over a period of years, made several such deals with the 
society. The relatives she helped transport from the Old 
World to America put no further strain on the generosity of 
the society. My mother always met them at the pier- and 
installed them in our three-room tenement, where they re- 
sided for weeks and months, and even for years. My mother's 
trips to the society to purchase steamship tickets or to pay 
the installments due on them never ceased. 

Young as I was, I took an interest in the humane objectives 
of the society (I never knew the society's full title), and al- 
ways gladly accompanied my mother to its offices. There we 
were always sure to find sad and bewildered immigrants sit- 
ting on dilapidated suitcases and wicker trunks in a large, 
unfurnished room reserved for them. The relatives and friends 
they had expected to find on the pier had failed to show up. 
My mother would interrogate the more dejected arrivals. 
Sometimes she would invite one of them to spend a few days 
with us in our generally overcrowded apartment. The be- 
wildered but grateful guest would shoulder his wicker trunk; 
my mother and I would carry what suitcases he had; and thus 
laden we would arrive home, where the stranger was wel- 
comed by the rest of the family and given what accommoda- 
tions were available. If, as sometimes happened, there was no 
available floor space for him to lie down at night, my mother 
would canvass the resources of friends and neighbors, always 
with satisfactory results. 

It was quite natural for our family to enter into the plight 
of the bewildered immigrants and to value the kind efforts 
of the society. For, only three years before, we, too, had 
arrived friendless in a strange country and had been met by an 
agent of a society, though not this one, who spoke our Ian- 

Mr. Harris <$ 

guage and attended to our needs. To ease the anxieties of our 
occasional house guests, the story of our own vicissitudes was 
often told them by my mother or father, or by both in friendly 
rivalry, with eager interruptions and reminders and, I now 
believe, embellishments that were often more picturesque 
than truthful. But I was able to corroborate the essentials of 
the story, for I had been both an actor in it and an eyewitness. 
As for the embellishments, I accepted them as a legitimate 
device to ensure the continued attention of our audience. In 
truth, our listeners, understandably overwrought and distrait, 
usually responded more warmly to the fabrications, which 
took the form of comic relief, than to the realistic details. 

When my father was the narrator, he would begin the tale 
at the point where he and his wife and children left their 
native Russia on the way to the New World, a continent 
which consisted, for him as well as for most immigrants, only 
of the United States. (I was surprised later to learn of the 
existence of Mexico and Canada.) But when my mother told 
the story, she would begin with a description of our early life 
in our native city of Vitebsk, recall her own girlhood and 
marriage, and lead up, by slow and interesting stages, to the 
moment of our departure. I preferred my mother's senti- 
mental, rambling narration because it gave color and dimen- 
sion to my own increasingly fuzzy memories. I loved to hear 
her speak of her father's little farm, a few miles from Vitebsk* 
where she and her numerous brothers and sisters were brought 
up, and of her father, a saintly man whom she loved next to* 
her own children. I had loved him too, and my memories of 
him were still fresh. Several times a year he would come to 
town to spend the Sabbath with us. I would be told in advance 
that he was coming and would be out on the street waiting 
for him. He would always walk the three miles from his farm 
to our house, and I would catch sight of him in the distance, 
his tall figure slightly bent, walking slowly with the aid of a 
stick and carrying in his left hand three or four large apples 


tied in a colored handkerchief, which he invariably brought 
me as a gift. When I came up to him, he would hand me his 
stick and handkerchief, place his arms on my head, and bless 
me, after which he would press me to him hard and kiss me 
many times, and I would smell the sweet aroma of snuff which 
clung to his hands and his long, shiny double-breasted coat. 
He had the most elaborately curled earlocks of any old man 
I had ever seen, a long, thin face, prominent nose, and high 
forehead, and small twinkling eyes. When he sat, it was 
always bolt upright, supporting this position with rigid arms 
and clenched fists resting on his knees. I have a photograph 
of him sitting thus, with his eldest son, Solomon, standing 
behind him. It is an old daguerreotype taken on the occa- 
sion of Solomon's bar ?mtzvah, or coming of age, when he was 
thirteen. At the time we left Russia, my Uncle Solomon was 
a man of forty, a well-known rabbi and scholar, with a wife 
and many children. Yet his future greatness had been fore- 
shadowed at the time the photograph was taken. Even at that 
tender age he had proved himself so precocious a scholar that 
his bar mitzvah attracted learned men and rabbis from places 
as distant as Dvinsk, a two-hour trip on the Dvina from 
Vitebsk. An even finer recognition of my uncle's precocity 
came with my grandfather's announcement during the large 
repast that was served after the bar mitzvah ceremonies that 
the young Solomon was already affianced to the daughter of 
the Dvinsk rabbi! The marriage would of course have to wait 
until the groom reached the mature age of seventeen. But, for 
the moment, the double ceremony made the extraordinary 
youth the hero of the neighborhood. 

Such detailed bits of family history brightened my mother's 
narration of our flight from Russia. At some point in the story, 
my father might become impatient with what for him was 
merely feminine discursivness. Then he would, without 
apology, proceed to take over in the interest of veracity and 
realism. He usually began with the day he, and presumably 

Mr. Harris 37 

my mother, arrived at their decision to sell their house and 
embark for America. It was, even I could recall, for us a very 
grave decision. I, though then only a child of six, was aware 
of its importance for my future and for that of my brothers 
and sisters. We were poor. Our one-story frame house stood 
on "this side" of the Dvina, the unfashionable side, "the 
other side" housing the town's affluent Jews. It had taken my 
father many years to pay for our frame house out of his small 
earnings as a teacher in a cheder. Though the house had few 
rooms, and one of them was rented out to a widowed "onion 
woman" so called because she specialized in that vegetable 
at her stall in the market-place and her grown son, I thought 
it roomy and adequate for our family of twelve. 

Perhaps children remember with pleasure any habitation 
associated with their childhood. I recall mine as a snug and 
pleasant abode, generally redolent of twist bread baking in 
our brick oven, the cavernous fiery interior of which delighted 
and scared me when my mother opened its heavy iron door 
and dexterously extracted the loaves with a long, flat wooden 
shovel. Especially enchanting was our house on Friday even- 
ings. In the early morning, when I left it with my. father to 
go to cheder, it looked untidy and bedraggled. But when we 
came back after synagogue at night, a great change had taken 
place. Everything was orderly and in its place. The floors 
glistened with fresh sand. The long table was formally set for 
the Sabbath. The light from the candles caused the twist 
breads set in front of my father's place (where he would 
presently ceremoniously bless them) to glow in their high 
varnish of egg yolk, and accentuated the cleanliness of the 
newly scrubbed faces of my mother and sisters. In winter the 
rooms held a variety of culinary and other warm smells, the 
identification of which became a game for me at night in my 
bed before I went to sleep. The frost on the windows and the 
little snowdrifts lying snug against the corners of the panes 
gave one a delicious feeling of security and well-being. 


In the spring and summer the house was less important to 
me, except, of course, at night, when it was a solid barrier 
against distant noises outside, like the baying of dogs or the 
howling of -for all I knew wolves. Horrifying rumors of 
the appearance of wolves, even in places as close to town as 
my grandfather's farm, were heard constantly. During most 
of each long summer day I stayed in our large fcnced-in yard; 
I plucked and ate seeds from the round faces of tall sunflowers 
growing in a patch of garden where my mother raised carrots 
and beets, and I drank endless glasses of tea with the older 
people from a copper samovar that always stood on a rustic 
table beside the house. The life was to rne deeply satisfying. 
! 1 gathered, from overhearing my parents' frequent discus- 
sions of their plans, that their decision to transplant them- 
selves and their children to America had no relation to those 
material inducements of the New World which motivated 
the migrations of our neighbors, but was based solely on their 
desire to spare my brothers, and eventually me, the military 
service exacted of all able-bodied males in Russia. Military 
service, in my father's eyes, was not an evil in itself, having 
been ordained by a ruler who enjoyed the protection of God. 
But military service for Jews meant the disruption of Jewish 
ritual life, and in that respect it was irreligious and a thing 
to be, if possible, avoided. 

< My father had for some time been in correspondence with 
a second cousin who had emigrated to America for motives 
less praiseworthy than those which now impelled my parents. 
This relative had prospered and was living comfortably in 
Passaic, New Jersey, a region described in his letters as a 
veritable Eden. He and his two sons were profitably engaged 
in the junk business and, as an evidence of his success in the 
venture, in one of his letters he had enclosed his business card* 
The card was a large one, and contained, besides the name 
and address, many words in English, which we could not, of 
course, understand. My father, conjecturing that the words 

Mr. Harris 39 

might carry explicit directions to the Passaic postmen, was 
most careful to transcribe the entire contents of the card when 
addressing an envelope to his cousin in America. Many years 
later I discovered the card in an old pocketbook of my 
father's and learned with astonishment that the words he had 
,so laboriously copied out called attention to his cousin's in- 
stant readiness to call in person, any hour of the day or 
evening, on all who wished to dispose of surplus junk at 
prices, paid instantly in cash, which were far more generous 
than those of rival dealers in Passaic and in the entire state 
of New Jersey. 

This prosperous relation now urged my father to lose no 
time in selling our house, and with the money to purchase 
steamship passage to New York. He was well aware, he 
wrote, that there would be little money left. But we were not 
to worry. Once safely across the face of the big ocean (his 
letters sometimes waxed poetic), we would make our home 
with him until we could get on our feet. This would not take 
long, he assured us. America (and Passaic in particular) was 
the Golden, the Promised, Land. There would be work for 
my brothers and sisters and there was even, at the moment, a 
rare opportunity for the establishment of a cheder by my 
father. There were many Jewish families in Passaic, and 
pedagogues were scarce. 

After much deliberation my father sold the house. It was 
bought by, of all people, the onion woman, whose unsuspected 
solvency mortified the neighborhood, which had always 
consigned her to the lowest rung of the social ladder and 
treated her with indifference and often with contempt. The 
new owner, however, quickly dispelled any uneasiness the 
neighborhood might have felt about her social ambitions by 
saying that she intended to continue to live in her one room 
and would rent out the rest of the house. 

The news of our intention to emigrate brought to the house 
strange men who vied with one another in offering us a com- 


plete journey from Vitebsk to New York for a price that 
could not be matched anywhere else in Russia. For weeks our 
house was alive with these agents. When they met each other 
I could see plainly they were not on friendly terms; and when 
they were alone with my father they called his attention to 
the low business standards and unethical practices of their 
rivals. My father, after patiently listening to all who ap- 
peared, finally closed with one whose straightforward sincer- 
ity inspired confidence. 

The moment arrived when every detail of our departure 
had been attended to, even to the baking of hundreds of 
kuchkch. These were large diamond-shaped wafers made of 
flour, sugar, and water. They were to be our only nourish- 
ment for the entire journey unless our ship could boast a 
bona fide kosher kitchen. Besides the huge bag of kuchlech, 
our baggage consisted of all our bedding, household utensils,, 
a wicker trunk with the family's surplus garments, two brass 
candlesticks, and a copper teakettle. There was to be a fare- 
well family dinner at my grandfather's farm, and I was sent 
there the day before, so that I wouldn't be in anyone's way 
while the packing was going on. Early the next day, uncles, 
aunts, and cousins, with all their children, began to arrive, and 
finally a wagon drew up with my father, mother, brothers, 
and sisters and all our baggage; for we were to board a 
paddle-boat on the Dvina at a landing only a mile from my 
grandfather's house, on the first stage of our journey to 

My mother sat next to her father at the farewell dinner, 
which began about noon. My grandfather used to say that he 
loved all his children impartially, and his behavior toward 
them was certainly impeccable, but he could not altogether 
conceal his pride in my Uncle Solomon for his rabbinical 
achievements or his fondness for my mother. He was sad and 
mostly silent during the long course of our farewell dinner. 
But when the time came for us to leave the table, he began 

Mr. Harris 41 

to speak rapidly about his sorrow and approaching loneliness 
and the inscrutable intentions of Providence. He spoke in 
long, rolling phrases, interpolating poetical quotations, some 
of which I had myself encountered in the Book of Genesis, 
which 1 had studied in cheder. I can remember snatches of 
sentences addressed toward my mother and, I thought, to- 
ward me as well: "The Almighty will guide you safely over 
the great waters. . . . Lord, take them under Your mighty 
wing. . . . These dim eyes will not see them again. , . . 
But the Eternal, the Ever-Watchful, will not let them out of 
His sight." 

We then left on foot for the wharf, our baggage having 
preceded us there by cart. We had said good-by to everyone. 
But my grandfather insisted on accompanying us, and his slow 
pace retarded our progress. I was impatient to see the paddle- 
boat that was to bear us away forever, and would have run 
ahead; but my mother held my hand firmly as we walked, and 
it was a long time before we sighted the pier and the boat 
with its enormous, gaily painted paddle-wheel. When we 
reached the pier, my mother suddenly flung her arms around 
my grandfather and clung to him, weeping, for an embar- 
rassingly long time. She then as suddenly disengaged herself 
and, without once looking back or waving, made her way to 
the boat and disappeared into its interior. The rest of the 
family followed, but remained on deck and waved to the old 
man, who stood rooted to the spot where my mother had left 
him, oblivious of our gestures, for he did not wave back. The 
whistle blew and the gangplank was removed. A towpath ran 
parallel with the river for some miles. When the boat began 
to move, my grandfather suddenly came to life. He started 
walking and, as the boat picked up speed, running along 
the path, trying to keep us in sight as long as he could. I 
watched the hurrying, stumbling figure grow smaller and 
smaller, and at last dwindle away. 

We paddled lesiurely down the Dvina and reached Riga 


on the third day. There we transferred to a boat that would 
take us to Stettin, where we were to board the ship that 
would carry us to America. As the boat pulled out of Riga 
we had our last glimpse of our native land. To my surprise, 
we were all taken down to the hold of the ship and locked 
into a storage room for coal next to the ship's engines. But 
my father had been told beforehand to expect a temporary 
concealment during the period when the police came on board 
to make their routine inspection of the passengers' passports. 
As we had no passports, we were to remain hidden in the coal 
room until the police had gone and the boat had put out to 
sea. We sat silent and fearful on the dusty floor for a long 
time. At last we heard the sound of the engines starting up, 
and presently we knew from the creaking all around us that 
we were moving. 

The time must have been about dusk, for my father now 
signaled my brothers to evening prayers. They all turned to 
the wall on their left and began to pray, swaying back and 
forth and softly beating their breasts the while, as they always 
did at evening prayers. A moment later the boat pitched 
headlong into the turbulent Baltic. The coal suddenly shifted 
to the side where we were huddled. The floor receded from 
under our feet, and my father and brothers wavered and fell 
to the floor. I was seized with a dreadful nausea, and retched 
and vomited until, half dead, I fell into a sleep like a coma. 
Sometime later we were released and helped on deck; and 
there we spent the night, on the floor, on stools, and on pieces 
of luggage, for nothing would induce any of us to brave the 
airless terrors of the interior of the ship. 

We reached Stettin, in Germany, the next morning and 
boarded the ship for America. This boat was disappointingly 
small, being not very much larger than the one we had quitted. 
There were any number of big ships moored to piers and 
anchored in the bay, and I assumed they were bound for more 
distant places than New York. I remembered the vision of 

Mr. Harris 43 

"great waters" my grandfather had conjured up, and I won- 
dered if our modest vessel could make a dignified showing in 

We had a small cabin with a porthole to ourselves. Three 
tiers of bunks lined the walls. Our baggage had already been 
dumped in the middle of the room. My mother extricated 
the canvas bag containing the indispensable kuchlech. But now 
again, our boat ran into heavy seas soon after we sailed, and 
the kuchlech remained untouched. We crawled into our bunks 
and remained there fully dressed for two days, groaning, 
vomiting, dozing, and taking no nourishment except water 
and some oranges a sailor brought us each morning. On the 
morning of the third day the sea began to quiet down, though 
sheets of rain still beat against the porthole. We felt better 
and climbed out of our bunks feeling hungry for the first 
time. We were about to attack the kuchlech, which my 
mother began handing around, when two sailors appeared and 
conveyed to us in German and in dumb show that we were 
about to land. 

It seemed hardly possible that we had made the crossing 
in so short a time. There was no time for speculation, how- 
ever, for some of our luggage had to be repacked. By now 
the porthole showed not only rain, but also dim outlines of 
buildings quite close to the ship. The motion of the vessel 
subsided and presently ceased. The two sailors reappeared 
and began gathering up our belongings. We followed them 
out to the deck and down a gangplank, emerging on a large 
roofless wharf. The rain had slackened to a drizzle, and a 
thick mist disclosed shadowy outlines of tall buildings. Our 
luggage was piled in one heap. I clambered up to a perch on 
the top of a huge bundle of bedding, and the rest of the family 
grouped themselves around the luggage. A number of people 
had disembarked, and these, carrying valises or steamer trunks 
on their shoulders, walked quickly past us and disappeared. 
A whistle blew, the gangplank was removed, and the ship 


moved slowly away, soon melting into the pervading mist. 
We were quite alone on the eerie wharf. 

This, then, was America! At the moment it was decidedly 
disappointing. And where was my father's cousin from Pas- 
saic? Perhaps he had not heard about our record-breaking 
journey. But he had heard, for a man suddenly emerged from 
the gloom and with open umbrella in his hand was advancing 
on us. My father ran to meet him, and the rest of us waited 
breathlessly. Strangely enough, they did not embrace when 
they met. They talked long and earnestly. At length, my 
father turned and walked slowly toward us, the man right 
behind him. My father's face was white. "This is not Amer- 
ica!" he at last brought out. "We are in London!" 

The effect of this disclosure on my mother was stunning. 
Unexpected happenings threw her instantly into a "state," in 
which she wept, lamented, and ran the gamut of unbridled 
agitation. But she always recovered quickly, her practical 
nature reasserting itself automatically to face the challenge 
that life perpetually presented to her. Crises were only to be 
expected, but their extraordinary frequency in her life put on 
them the stamp of naturalness, like rain and snow and the 
change of seasons. I was therefore hardly surprised to see her, 
a moment after she had extravagantly given vent to her feel- 
ings, take charge of the strange situation, brush my father 
aside, and ply the stranger with questions. For myself, I was 
old enough to appreciate the gravity of our predicament. I 
knew that my father had only a few rubles when we left 
Russia and that most of these had been spent by the time we 
boarded the ship that had now so unceremoniously disgorged 
us. Yet, though 1 was very familiar with the name of New 
York, I had never heard of London. To be in unknown London 
was, in its way, as exciting as to be in the dark interior of 
Africa, of which I had heard. I sensed the possibility of ad- 
venture in London as, unmindful of the drizzle, I sat elevated 

Mr. Harris 45 

on our only earthly possessions and followed the course of 
my mother's Inquiries. 

The man, who spoke in Yiddish, introduced himself as a 
representative of a British Immigrant Aid Society, a wholly 
charitable organization, whose purpose was to offer aid and 
comfort to friendless Jews arriving from foreign ports. He 
showed no surprise at our situation. He told us that we were 
the victims of unscrupulous travel agents in Russia who had 
sold us tickets to London while charging us for passage to 
New York. Ours was not an unusual case, and his society 
was prepared to look after us temporarily until it could lo- 
cate our friends or relatives or fellow townsmen now residing 
in London. He then left us for a while and soon returned with 
a man trundling a pushcart. Our belongings were loaded on 
the cart and, led by the Samaritan, we left the wharf. (It was 
Tilbury Dock, I learned later.) After walking through miles 
of ghostly streets, we reached the dwelling that had been 
prepared for us or for unfortunates like us. 

Before the man from the society left us, he explained the 
British monetary system to my mother and then put ten 
shillings in her hand. This sum, he assured her, would take 
care of us for a week in a section of London where food could 
be bought cheaply on the streets, practically at one's doorstep. 
Indeed, our dead-end street, as well as the entire district 
around it, proved to be one great outdoor market. 

Our accommodations were two rooms in a two-story, dingy 
old house in a dead-end street off Commercial Road. Some 
rickety chairs, a table, two iron cots, and a small kerosene 
stove were all the furnishings. My mother, after disposing our 
belongings to the best practical advantage around our apart- 
ment, went out shopping. She returned with bread, herring, 
sugar, tea, and cottage cheese, and with grave doubts about 
the integrity of our benefactor, whose optimistic evaluation 
of the cost of living in London's ghetto she had discovered to 


be misleading* Things were, in fact, twice as dear as they 
were at home. From there on, to the end of their lives, Vitebsk 
remained "home" to my parents. 

Notwithstanding the heartening, though limited, generosity 
of the society, our situation was decidedly depressing. That 
night, when I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my father 
and mother talking long and earnestly about our future. My 
father had little to suggest that was constructive. He spoke a 
good deal about "home," contrasting its remembered joys 
with the bleak, hopeless prospect now facing us. But my 
mother, as usual, put her whole mind to a consideration of 
ways and means for ameliorating our lot. "We can't just sit 
here, talking of home and waiting for something to happen," 
she said. "We must do something. Do we know anyone in 
London?" The query was obviously rhetorical, for my father 
did not deign to answer. "Don't tell me nobody" she cried. 
"There must be somebody. They say London is the largest 
city in the world, much bigger than New York. I don't know 
how many thousands live in London. So there must be some- 
body here from Vitebsk. . . . Think hard Maybe you'll 
remember. . . . There must have been somebody who went- 
not to America!" 

There was a long silence and then my father said hesitat- 
ingly: "I seem to remember I'm not sure- Aunt Rivka's 
son-in-law's brother. But you wouldn't know him. He left 
Ula and went to live in Vitebsk. It was years before we were 
married. Yes, now I recall he left Vitebsk about twenty- 
five years ago." 

My mother's voice sounded tense as she interrupted him: 
"Did he go to London?" My father was not sure. "Well, did 
he go to America?" my mother persisted. On that point my 
father was certain. He distinctly remembered that America 
was definitely the place the man had not gone to. "Well 
then," my mother cried triumphantly, "if he did not go to 
America, where else could he have gone to?" 

Mr. Harris 47 

My father ventured a suggestion: "Africa, maybe?" the 
absurdity of which my mother implied in her challenge: "And 
what would he be doing in Africa?" (Africa symbolized for 
my mother the extreme of strangeness or remoteness. 
"Africa," she would say by way of putting the finishing 
touch to a picture of faraway desolation, "where pepper 
grows!" For many years I believed that the spice could 
flourish only in some desolate area of the dark continent.) 

"Well," my mother went on, "there can be no doubt about 
it, Rivka's cousin, or whatever he was, must have gone to 
London. The question is how to find him. What was his 

My father gave this some thought, for it was a long time 
before he answered. "I think it was was it? yes, of course. 
Now it comes back to me. Horowitz, that's it his name was 

My mother greeted this information with the elation of 
one who, after frantic cogitation, remembers a magic pass- 
word. "Well," she said, "now we must find Horowitz. 
Didn't he have a first name?" 

My father couldn't remember the first name, but wished 
to know how she proposed to locate Mr. Horowitz in a city 
the size of London. My mother could not say at the moment, 
but she thought the man from the society would help find him. 

Within a few days he came to see how we were getting 
along, and she told him the little she knew about Mr. Horo- 
witz. He said that he would do what he could. Several days 
later he reported to her that none of the Horowitzes he had 
been able to locate was the one she wanted. That evening I 
again overheard her and Father engaging in deep discussion. 

"Let's see," she began, "Mr. Horowitz left Vitebsk about 
twenty-five years ago, you say. How old could he have been 

My father hazarded twenty-three or twenty-five. "That 
would make him now let's see," and my mother made a 


rapid calculation, "about forty-eight or fifty, wouldn't it? 
What did he look like? But of course he'd be quite changed 
after all these years. Was he heavy-like? Thin? What color 
hair? Eyes?" 

My father's information on all these points was incon- 
clusive, but that didn't faze my mother. 

"It doesn't matter," she declared, "and anyway it can't be 
helped. Now let's see what did Mr. Horowitz do in 

Mr. Horowitz had worked at odd jobs in Vitebsk. No clue 

"Did he have any money?" It appeared he couldn't have 

"Well then," my mother said, "since he had no money 
when he came here, he must have been obliged to go to work!" 

At this point my father advanced the dreadful possibility 
that, for all he knew, the man might be dead. This my mother 
brushed aside as irrelevant to the execution of the plan she 
had by now formulated in her mind. 

"Now, as a Jew, Horowitz would naturally live and work 
among Jews, wouldn't he?" My father agreed, and my mother 
pushed on to the heart of her plan. "People go to work in the 
early morning and they return home in the evening, don't 
they? Now, if Mr. Horowitz is alive- of course he's alive, a 
man of fifty and if he is working you agree that he is 
working then he will be going to work at seven o'clock 
tomorrow morning somewhere in this very part of London, 
and at seven at night he will be returning to his home some- 
where around here!" 

I could hear her rise and walk across the room with deci- 
sion, as if she had definitely disposed of the vexing question 
of our future in London. 

"And now let's get some sleep," she said. 

My mother spent the next day exploring the Whitcchapel 
district, asking questions of storekeepers and pedestrians, 

Mr. Harris 49 

watching the flow of traffic in the larger thoroughfares, and 
noting when and where it was heaviest. That night she dis- 
cussed her strategy with my father, or rather she apprised him 
of it, and on the following morning at seven they took up 
positions on each side of Commercial Road at its junction with 
Leman Street. 

"Watch out for men who look about fifty a little younger 
or a little older," my mother told my father as they separated 
to take up their posts. 

I accompanied them for a lark, for the discovery of Mr. 
Horowitz seemed a very remote possibility even to an im- 
aginative child of six. When, an hour later, the stream of 
pedestrians had thinned out to a trickle, and my father, re- 
linquishing his post, crossed over to join my mother for their 
return home, I felt that the quixotic adventure definitely had 
been proved a failure. My father had accosted only one likely 
prospect, and my mother had seen none who might conceiv- 
ably be Mr. Horowitz. We walked home in silence, and I 
wondered what new scheme my mother would evolve now that 
Mr. Horowitz had proved nonexistent. But toward nightfall, 
as I played in our street with a new-found friend, I saw my 
parents leave the house and walk toward Whitechapel. I 
abandoned my playmate and joined them. At the corner of 
Commercial Road and Leman Street, they again took up their 
positions of the morning, and again for an hour scrutinized 
the hurrying passers-by, again without success. 

Once my mother ran after a middle-aged man, caught him 
by his sleeve, and said: "Excuse me, you look so familiar. Did 
you ever live in Russia?" 

The man, obviously astonished, stopped in his tracks, 
looked my mother over, and said: "Why, yes." 

My mother then led him aside, away from the stream of fast- 
moving men and women. "Your name isn't Horowitz?" 
The man shook his head and asked why. My mother made 
some hurried excuse, and he went on his way. 


My father had accosted no one. At eight o'clock we again 
returned home. My mother busied herself with the evening 
meal while my father read his Talmud. 

Days and weeks went by. Each Monday the man from the 
Aid Society appeared and placed ten shillings in my mother's 
hand. Our meals seemed never to vary. It was always herring, 
potatoes, bread, cheese, and tea. My father found himself a 
synagogue of the proper denomination, where he went three 
times a day, and my mother was endlessly engaged in shop- 
ping, cooking, scrubbing, and washing. But every morning 
and evening except Saturdays and Sundays they would both 
be at their posts in the London ghetto, patiently scanning the 
figures and faces of men hurrying by, occasionally stopping 
one and after a brief colloquy turning away to search for other 
possibilities. I soon lost all interest in the game and joined 
my parents only when I had nothing better to do. 

A letter had been dispatched to our cousin in Passaic, ap- 
prising him of our recent misfortune and present predicament, 
and a reply came back expressing sympathy for our plight, 
but containing no constructive suggestions for its alleviation. 
In truth, there was nothing the man could do to help us, as 
it was unlikely that he possessed or would wish to part with 
a sum large enough to pay our passage to America. Further- 
more, his kinship to us was not close enough to justify any 
great sacrifice on his part. There were certain things one could 
reasonably expect of a first cousin, but not of a second. The 
moral obligations of relatives were well defined among us, and 
people did only what they were expected to do. He did, how- 
ever, urge us to "look around" and keep him posted. His 
offer of a temporary home in Passaic still stood. 

As she grew more familiar with the neighborhood of her 
search, and to avoid being thought queer by the people in the 
shops, who were sure to wonder at her persistence, my mother 
shifted her operations to adjoining streets and avenues. She 
was "working" one of these side streets one evening. 1 had 

Mr. Harris 51 

come along for the walk. The crowds had tapered off, and 
my father was signaling us from the opposite corner that it 
was time to go home. At the same moment a man in a gray 
bowler hat brushed past us. My mother looked at him and 
shot out a restraining hand. I had seen this happen many 
times during the past six weeks, and I tugged at her skirts, 
impatient to be off. But my mother's routine question had 
already stopped the man. 

"Yes," he replied, "I come from Russia. Why do you ask?" 

My mother disengaged her skirt from my grasp and went 
very close to the man. "Excuse me," she persisted, "perhaps 
from Vitebsk?" 

The man regarded her wonderingly. "Why, yes," he said, 
"I come from Vitebsk." 

This was, indeed, progress of a sort, and I began to share 
the excitement that I read in my mother's face. Many men 
she had accosted had acknowledged Russia as their birthplace, 
but none had even spoken the magic name of our native city. 
Still, any number of Vitebsk men might be living in London. 
Why should this man in the bowler hat be the one man we 
were seeking? Before I could wonder about him any further, 
my mother had breathlessly put to him her final question. 

"Why, no," he answered quickly, "my name is Harris." 
He started on, but after a few steps he suddenly turned and 
came back to her. "As a matter of fact," he said slowly, "it 
'was Horowitz. But that was a long time ago, in Vitebsk. 
When I came to London, I changed it to Harris. Why do you 

Without a word my mother clutched him to her heart. The 
man endured the embrace with equanimity, for my mother 
was then in her early thirties and quite handsome. My father, 
hoping that the miracle had finally occurred, now crossed the 
street on the run and, without seeking to know more, shoved 
my mother aside and in his turn embraced Mr. Harris. I ran 
home alone to be the first to bear the good news to my 


brothers and sisters. A few minutes later my parents arrived 
with the now radiant Mr. Harris in tow. For Mr. Harris, on 
learning our identity and the nature and extent of the hunt 
that had been conducted for him, marveled at my mother's 
ingenuity and persistence, and expressed himself as very 
pleased to find himself so suddenly provided with a set of 
kinsfolk, "ready to wear, so to speak," he said. 

After listening to a long and quite detailed recital of our 
unfortunate history since we had left Russia, Mr. Harris at 
my mother's urging told us of his life in London. Fortified 
with a glass of tea, he began his tale with his five shillings a 
week apprenticeship in a hat factory off Whitechapel Road 
twenty-five years before, and finished it with his present 
ownership of the selfsame establishment, now double in size 
and importance. He was a widower and childless, and it was 
only because he had no home ties that he kept workman's 
hours. Otherwise, the chances of his being on the streets in 
the morning and evening rush hours would have been slim 
indeed, for truth compelled him to confess that he was very 
well off and was in a position to retire altogether from work if 
he chose. He regarded the evening's encounter as providential 
for all concerned, but more especially for him. For, while he 
had many friends in London, he had thus far not discovered 
any relations. 

Before another hour had gone by, Mr. Harris had planned 
our future. My older brothers would be employed in his hat 
factory; he would find jobs for my sisters; and the younger 
children would be sent to school. He would also find an apart- 
ment suited to so large a family as ours, and my mother was 
to serve notice on the Aid Society that we should henceforth 
be self-supporting. But at the moment Mr. Harris desired 
to show the menfolk his factory, which was near by. I begged 
hard to be taken along, and after our frugal supper, which Mr. 
Harris shared, and, for a rich man, appeared, much to our 
surprise, to enjoy, the four males of our family followed him 

Mr. Harris 53 

out of the house and through a maze of streets and alleys to 
his factory. 

This was an imposing structure, two stories high. It was 
shut for the night, but Mr. Harris rang a bell and a night 
watchman let us in. We were led through rooms full of sewing 
machines, and then into Mr. Harris's private office, a large 
room with a magnificent rolltop desk and showcases with 
glass doors lined against a wall, in them a most bewildering 
variety of caps and hats. Mr. Harris enjoyed our pleasure in 
what we saw and insisted on fitting us all out with headgear 
of our own choosing as his initial gift to the family. My 
father and brothers expressed a preference for top hats, or 
stovepipes, as Mr. Harris jokingly called them. I was urged 
to choose a velvet cap with ear muffs to match, and indeed 
the one showed me looked so rich and sleek that I was 
tempted to accept it. But the desire to be considered grown-up 
was strong within me, and I pleaded so hard for a "stovepipe" 
that Mr. Harris at last gave way and we left the shop uni- 
formly outfitted. There had been some difficulty in fitting a 
head so small as mine, and the smallest "stovepipe" in the 
shop, which became mine, fell short of the snugness with 
which the other hats rested on the heads of my father and 
brothers. But though I could have felt more comfortable, I was 
proud of my hat. 

On our way home, people in the streets stopped to stare 
at us, and as we turned into Black Lane, I prayed that my 
mother and sisters would be looking out of the windows and 
would see us as we marched in single file down the narrow 
sidewalk. Sure enough, they were looking out of windows and 
could hardly believe their eyes when they saw us. So ended 
in triumph a day that began as fruitlessly as all those we had 
doggedly lived through since being so unceremoniously 
dumped out on Tilbury Dock. 

Mr. Harris was as good as his word in all respects. A few 
days after our memorable encounter, he moved us into a fine 


four-room apartment that had gaslight and running water. My 
brothers were employed in the hat factory and my sisters 
were put to work in a tobacconist's shop close to the factory. 
There, with the aid of a little machine, they inserted tobacco 
into previously manufactured little paper casings. The younger 
children were sent to school. Every Sunday we dined en 
masse at Mr. Harris's sumptuous apartment on the fifth and 
top story of a vast building. It was great fun to rush up the 
Iron stairways and wait on the top landing for the rest of the 
family, especially for my parents, who climbed slowly and 
paused for breath at each landing. Mr. Harris made my father 
and mother take the head and foot of the table, and behaved 
like a guest in his own home. We were waited on by an 
oldish woman in a flowered apron, who carried the dishes 
around to each of us in turn. We were expected to help 
ourselves with a large spoon and fork placed in the dishes for 
that purpose. 

Our family prospered rapidly. Every payday those of us 
who were gainfully employed brought their pay envelopes 
unopened to my mother, and the kitchen table would be piled 
high with shillings and pence. New denominations, like florins 
and crowns, began to appear, and sometimes a paper bank- 
note. Mr. Harris was solely responsible for all this, and 
perhaps for much more that I knew nothing about. 

All this time my father kept up his correspondence with his 
New Jersey relative. The more prosperous and settled we 
became, the more importunate grew the letters from America. 
My mother and the children would have been content to re- 
main permanently in London. For myself, I soon spoke Eng- 
lish of a sort and I acquired numerous playmates, with whom 
I roamed the Whitechapel district and even on one occasion 
penetrated the dazzlingly spotless West End and walked on 
London Bridge. Fortunately, I did not then realize that the 
bridge was the subject of a nursery rhyme I had recently 
learned, which began: "Land-the-britches falling down," or 

Mr. Harris 55 

I should have thought twice before trusting myself to so 
precarious a structure. My English, though progressing, was 
inadequate for the elucidation of the many phrases and songs 
I learned on the streets. These I spoke and sang glibly, but 
it was many years before I discovered their meaning. Thus, 
the ballad that I sang beginning with "As I walked along the 
base below with the undipendent-te," I had no trouble in 
identifying many years after as the opening line of "The 
Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." But I never suc- 
ceeded in deciphering or identifying another one of my 
favorites which went: 

Do'wn the street, 
A leeza can a quoia, 
Fl c ve-and-t e wenty batsa gata there, 

and its lilting refrain: 

me fait) me, 

iddy vei dy backoo see, 
Lefty, righdy, 
Backee, seiddy, 

One time my sister and I followed a monster parade for 
many hours. There were brass bands and magnificently cos- 
tumed men on horseback, and the streets for miles were lined 
with people who applauded the pageant and especially an open 
carriage in which sat a plump old lady. Could she have been 
Victoria, the event the celebration of her Golden Jubilee? 

My father's growing disposition to regard London as a 
way-station to America was, toward the end of the year's 
residence, fortified by the deleterious effect of the recurrent 
fogs on his health. In the light of modern psychiatry, the 
neuralgia that he suffered could have been brought on by his 
impatience to continue his interrupted journey. At any rate, 
my mother grew alarmed at his frequent indispositions. 


Mr. Harris was duly consulted, and regretfully acquiesced in 
our contemplated departure, voicing a readiness to facilitate it. 
Our move, in fact, depended on his co-operation. From the 
first, my father had managed to impress on my mother the 
necessity of saving a good part of the family's earnings, which 
he entrusted each week to Mr. Harris for safe keeping. But 
the amount, while sizable, was not sufficient to defray the 
cost of the journey to New York. Without waiting to be 
asked, Mr. Harris offered a loan to make up the difference 
and to tide us over the first few months in America. To avoid 
a possible recurrence of the chicanery that had set us down in 
London, our benefactor himself purchased the steamship 
tickets, assuring us the while that such double-dealing was 
foreign to the nature of the English. 

A little over a year after we left Russia, we sailed from 
Liverpool on the S.S. St. Paul, a vessel imposing enough to 
negotiate the "great waters" my grandfather had poetically 
feared. Mr. Harris accompanied us on the train from London, 
saw to our baggage, and gave us as a parting gift a large 
basket of fruit with colored silk ribbons. We all stood at the 
steerage deck rail as the steamer pulled away. My mother's 
eyes were full of tears as she waved her handkerchief. My 
father, my brothers, and I waved our toppers as Mr. Harris 
and London faded in the distance. 


e on Stanton Street 



.HE St. Paul made a record run of less than 
seven days from Liverpool to New York. The trip was smooth 
and pleasant, though our quarters, which we shared with 
about two dozen other passengers, were somewhat cramped. 
This room, in which we could do little but sleep, was designed 
like a large egg crate, with three tiers of cubicles for bunks 
and with just enough room in the center to move about before 
climbing in and out of our beds. The ship featured a kosher 
kitchen for the orthodox Jewish passengers, but my father 
had doubts about its authenticity, and both he and my mother 
subsisted on oranges and the kuchlech my mother had baked in 
preparation for the journey. As a result of earnest representa- 
tions by my mother, the children were permitted by paternal 
dispensation to eat the ship's food if they chose. But the 
dining-saloon was stuffy and airless, and the only food we 


could keep down comfortably was raw herring and bread. 
Besides, our parents' show of super-orthodoxy gave us, not- 
withstanding their sanction, an uncomfortable feeling of 
guilt, and we debated amorig ourselves the possibility of being 
overtaken by divine retribution on the Day of Atonement. 
Although it was a good ten weeks to Yom Kippur, it was not 
to be supposed that God would fail to remember our semi- 
transgression on the day when He decides the fate of every 
living soul. 

The voyage introduced us to an olfactory phenomenon 
known to all transatlantic travelers of those days as the smell 
of "ship." This pervasive, insidious odor, a distillation of 
bilge and a number of less identifiable putrescences, settled on 
one's person, clothes, and luggage and stayed there forever, 
impervious to changes of habitat, clothing, and the cleansing 
agents available to the poor. It was many years before I 
realized that only steerage passengers smelled of "ship." 
Until then I assumed that all persons, rich or poor, traveling 
on ships became, as a matter of course, victims of this afflic- 
tion. And, like all afflictions that are protracted, it lost its 
terrors through familiarity. One expected arrivals from Europe 
to smell of "ship." So much so that on visits to the homes of 
neighbors, one could tell at once by the pervading smell of 
"ship" that they were entertaining guests from abroad. 

Smells, in general, played an important part in our lives. 
Not an unpleasant part, I recall, but one that in its way made 
life a little easier, serving for identification of persons, their 
habits and social position, perhaps as clues to character and 
occupation. Everything and everybody had a smell. Some 
smells were generic and impersonal, others particular, like 
the leitmotivs in the music dramas of Richard Wagner. And 
just as the introduction of a leitmotiv warns the listener that 
the personage it represents is about to appear, so the insinu- 
ation of a smell in a room usually heralded the approach of 
the person who had become identified with it. Immigrants, 

Life on Stanton Street 59 

however, could not so be identified Individually for at least a 
year or two after their arrival, as their own odors were over- 
powered by and absorbed into the more exigent smell of 

Old people had, in general, an acrid smell, and old men in- 
variably smelled of snuff. Young people and children merely 
smelled unwashed. We knew that we too would smell of 
snuff when we grew old. That was in the nature of things. 
Life was stern and realistic, and the conditions it imposed 
were not subject to question or criticism. After taking snuff 
it was quite proper for people to blow their noses without 
the interposition of a handkerchief. In rooms not graced with 
spittoons, what was more natural than to spit on the floor! It 
was natural, though not desirable, for children to have lice 
in their hair and for grown-ups to harbor them in the seams of 
their clothing and underwear. Beds and bedding and all over- 
stuffed furniture were infested with bedbugs. The pests were 
periodically hunted and exterminated; but their presence was 
not considered a disgrace, and they shared with poverty and 
disease the status of divine visitation. "What brand of bedbug 
powder do you use?" was a natural query when housewives 
met on the street or entertained one another with tea and 
kuchlech. Presumably the question was also asked by house- 
wives on the West Side. The world was most probably the 
same for everybody. We knew that rich people had more 
rooms, better food and clothing, and easier lives than the 
poor; but we had no reason to believe that their lot was 
otherwise different, or that they were exempt from what we 
believed to be universal afflictions. On the visible world, half 
of which we knew first-hand, and the other half of which we 
could only imagine, there were, for us, certain unchangeable 
phenomena: children were dirty and were obliged to scratch 
their heads; mothers were unkempt and slatternly; every- 
body, old and young, had teeth pulled regularly, so that 
middle-aged and old people had few if any teeth; a great 


many children died young; everybody slept in underwear; 
parents always quarreled; mothers were generally indulgent 
to their children, but fathers either kept aloof or were brutal 
to them. And, of course, everyone over fourteen years of age 
was employed in gainful labor. Not before the age of fourteen 
could one obtain one's working papers. It took a considerable 
amount of experience In the realm of what Is now called "the 
underprivileged" before I could collate these observations, 
draw my conclusions, and, by extension, relate the picture 
thus built up to that part of the world which lay outside my 
knowledge and beyond my reach. 

When the St. Paul reached New York, we were met by my 
father's second cousin, the junk-dealer. This kinsman's name 
was Gold. It had been Goldstein, but on his arrival in America 
he had thus shortened It at the friendly suggestion of an im- 
migration officer who was passing on the fitness of arriving 
aliens to enter the United States. Now, on the pier, our cousin 
urged my father to perform a similar operation on our own 
"useless" family name, as he termed it, suggesting "Chot" as 
a desirable abbreviation. My father rejected the idea on the 
ground that he failed to see the need for any alteration of any 
name. In an effort to convince him, Mr. Gold recalled how 
he, too, had resisted at first, but had been unable to deny the 
appositeness of the immigration officer's question: "What 
good is Stein to you?" He now demanded to be told what 
possible good the last two syllables of our name could be to 
us in a country so dynamic and so impatient of nonessentials 
as America. "For here," Mr. Gold said triumphantly and 
we heard enunciated for the first time the then celebrated and 
popular slogan "Time is money." My father, however, re- 
mained unconvinced, and, much to Mr. Gold's displeasure, we 
retained what he always regarded an impossible, noncom- 
mercial name. Many years later my three brothers arrived 
independently at the junk-dealer's philosophy of nomenclature. 
Indeed, they went farther than Mr. Gold by discarding al- 

Life on Stanton Street 61 

together our family name, each one adopting a terse, one- 
syllable, indigenous, respectable, and consequently absolutely 
commercial surname. Louis, the youngest of the three, chose 
White; Solomon, the next in age, adopted Chase; and Albert, 
the eldest, who all his life meticulously observed the entire 
ritual of Jewish orthodoxy, selected the name of Church. 

Although Passaic fell short of being the Eden that Mr. Gold 
had promised in his letters to my father, it proved to be a 
lively town, with horse-cars, interesting shops, and sidewalks 
paved with tar, which had a pleasant smell, and became so soft 
on very hot days that one's heels sank into it. Our cousin 
lived on the outskirts of the city in an area inhabited only by 
Jews. He occupied one floor of a two-story frame house. On 
the second floor there were two vacant rooms, which, with 
one room in Mr. Gold's apartment, were assigned to us. I 
do not recall in what manner the ten of us were disposed 
in this arrangement, but not many days elapsed before 
Mrs. Gold's exuberant show of hospitality was replaced by an 
impatience with our presence which could not be lost on any 
of us. On the other hand, there was no visible alteration in 
Mr. Gold's interest in us and in his solicitude for our future, 
though it soon was evident that he was unable to fulfill his 
promises of work for my brothers and sisters and a teaching 
position in a cheder for my father. To the end of our stay he 
kept reiterating his faith in the commercial possibilities of 
"Birdie Kahndie," his exotic mispronunciation of Bergen 
County. His pride in this region was immense, and he would 
prophesy that in ten years' time "Birdie Kahndie" would 
outstrip in population and wealth any territory of its size in 
the United States. 

He seemed oblivious of the rancid smells of the long 
stretches of milky swampland in the vicinity of his home, and 
impervious to the bite of the large mosquitoes that filled the 
air the moment the sun went down. But I was not. And soon 
after we settled in "Birdie Kahndie" I developed malaria and 


walked about weakly, feeling queasy and running slight but 
uncomfortable temperatures. Mr. Gold took me to a dispen- 
sary in Passaic, where a doctor prescribed quinine and a 
change of climate. As there was nothing now to keep us in 
Passaic except Mr. Gold's unconvincing prognostications of a 
speedy change for the better in our fortunes, my health became 
a consideration of importance. And in a council held by the 
heads of both families it was decided with Mr. Gold dis- 
senting that we should try the climate of New York as an 
antidote to my malaria, at the same time testing the reputation 
of the metropolis as a place of great opportunity for the enter- 
prising alien. 

Enthusiastically shepherded by Mrs. Gold, my mother 
journeyed to New York and rented a suitable apartment in 
Stanton Street, on the lower East Side, one block from the 
Bowery. Into this we moved one very hot morning in late 
August. Right in front of our house a large black horse lay 
dead in the gutter. He must have been there for some time, 
for the stench was dreadful, and flies, large and small, covered 
every inch of the carcass and hovered in swarms over it. 
Later in the day I looked out the window and saw several 
small boys astride the animal, engaged in skinning it with 
their pocket knives. Their sport was presently interrupted, 
however, by the arrival of a large van for the removal of the 
horse. This complicated operation attracted all the children 
In the neighborhood, who watched the departure of the beast 
with regret. 

My health improved slowly in Stanton Street. Once a week 
I walked to a dispensary at Second Avenue and Fourteenth 
Street and received, gratis, a dose of quinine. My mother ac- 
companied me there, for she, too, was unwell, frequently 
announcing in a dramatic tone of voice that her heart had 
stopped beating. I was not unduly alarmed, for I was at the 
time unaware of the crucial function of this organ. Nor did 
the doctor at the dispensary regard my mother's condition 

Life on Stanton Street 63 

with the seriousness she thought it demanded. He would 
laugh at her extravagant claims and prescribe Hoffmann's 
drops. A few drops of this magic liquid on a lump of sugar 
had the effect of instantly reviving my mother's dormant 

The public schools opened in September. I was to enter the 
second grade of the school nearest my home, a large red-brick 
building on Houston Street. Preparations for the fall term 
could be observed everywhere. The shops on Stanton Street 
were displaying every necessity for the resumption of learn- 
ing. All manner of boys' clothing, including ravishing sailor 
suits with whistle attached and smart brown knee-length 
gabardine overcoats, were on view behind the plate-glass 
windows. The candy stores had the most Interesting display 
of articles used in the classroom. The number and variety of 
pencil boxes alone took one's breath away. There seemed to 
be no limit to the complexity of pencil boxes. Beginning with 
the simple oblong box, plain or lacquered, they evolved into 
two- and three-storied structures with secret compartments. 
Prices ranged from seven cents to the fantastic sum of a 
dollar. The pencil box was, admittedly, a necessity; but a 
box costing more than ten cents became a symbol of social 
superiority. The very few who could afford dollar boxes be- 
came the acknowledged leaders of their classes. A highly 
prized peek into the lavish interiors of their pencil boxes was 
vouchsafed only as a reward for services promised or per- 

It was out of the question for me to begin school without a 
pencil box and some other less important "supplies" that 
beckoned through the window of the candy store on our 
block. Those others ranged from plain and colored blotters to 
school bags in the shape of knapsacks. Though I pleaded hard 
for a two-storied pencil box costing a quarter, my mother 
bought me a plain, oblong casket with a sliding top for ten 
cents. When our shopping was done, my supplies consisted 


of the pencil box, four writing pads at a penny each, and a 
set of colored blotters costing a nickel, the last wrung from 
my reluctant parent after I had conjured up a classroom crisis 
in which the teacher would call for a show of blotters and I 
would be the only pupil unable to produce any. My mother 
had a horror of nonconformity, a failing I early spotted and 
often exploited. 

On the first Monday in September my mother took me and 
my scanty supplies to school, where I was enrolled and given 
a desk and a seat in a large classroom. The teacher, a gray- 
haired, middle-aged lady, told us to call her Miss Murphy. 
I wondered if she meant to imply that this was to be her name 
in class and that at home she was called something else. The 
name sounded alien and therefore forbidding, and might have 
been chosen to emphasize the natural barrier between teacher 
and pupil. She was obviously a pagan a Chreestch our name 
for any non-Jew. Miss Murphy read out our last names from 
a long paper in front of her, and we raised our hands to signify 
our presence. She was severely distant, and her impersonal 
attitude, added to the formality of being called by our last 
names, cast a chill on the classroom. Soon one began to long 
for the sound of one's first name as for an endearment that 
would, at a stroke, establish a human relationship between 
oneself and Miss Murphy. But it was not to be. By the fol- 
lowing morning Miss Murphy, having already memorized 
the surnames of her entire class, called the roll without once 
referring to her paper. 

She then went to the blackboard and in beautiful script 
wrote "Catt" and, looking over the sea of heads in front of 
her, said: "Something is wrong with the spelling of this word. 
Katzenelenbogen, stand up and tell me what is wrong." A 
small, skinny boy rose in the back of the room and said 
something in an indistinct voice. "Speak up, Katzenelen- 
bogen!" Miss Murphy sharply commanded. My heart went 
out to Katzenelenbogen in his ordeal. I was conscious of the 

Life on Stanton Street 65 

disparity between the long and important-sounding name and 
the frailty and insignificance of its possessor. Miss Murphy, 
however, could not be blamed for adhering to a long-established 
practice in all public schools. Even in kindergarten, I learned, 
four- and five-year-olds were called by their last names. The 
practice was inevitably adopted by the children among them- 
selves in their out-of-school hours, of course with suitable 
abbreviations of the longer names, and often with prefatory, 
highly descriptive adjectives. 

Notwithstanding Miss Murphy's frigidity, she soon com- 
manded our interest and respect, and we made good progress 
in reading and spelling. For some mysterious reason, we were 
more interested in spelling outside the classroom than in it. 
In the classroom we were content to plod along with the 
elementary vocabulary of McGuffefs Eclectic Second Reader. 
But at recess time in the yard, and on the street on our way 
home, we challenged one another to spell long and complicated 
words whose meaning we didn't know and never dreamt to 
inquire. Words such as "combustible" and "Mississippi" were 
somehow in the air. How the craze got started I never knew. 
But walking home one afternoon, I accidentally collided with 
a boy I didn't know. Instead of the usual, belligerent "Hey! 
Can't you look where you're going?" I was peremptorily 
commanded to spell "combustible." I couldn't, never having 
heard the word before; whereupon the boy rattled off "co- 
mb-us-ti-bl-e" with incredible speed and triumphantly went 
on his way. It was not long before I, too, learned to spell the 
fascinating word and others equally difficult and provocative. 
Soon I could rattle off "M-i-double-ess-i-double-ess-i-double- 
p-i" as rapidly as any child in the neighborhood. 

The words in McGuffey's, though simpler, lacked the lovely 
sibilance and long, musical line of those we challenged one 
another with on the streets. In consequence, they were more 
difficult to learn to spell. But they did have the advantage of 
intelligibility, and as strung together in McGuffey's Reader 


they told connected, highly interesting stories. McGuffey's 
took the reader into town and country, but I was delighted 
to discover that, like myself, it had a strong bias for the latter. 
I was much taken with a story in the reader called "The 
Town Mouse and the Country Mouse," which presented a 
dialogue between two rodents residing respectively in a 
metropolis and on a farm. The city dweller, who spoke first, 
advanced apparently incontrovertible arguments on behalf of 
urban life, stressing especially the prevalence of food left 
carelessly lying around by humans and the plenitude of holes 
and crevices and other avenues of escape from cats and 
destructive agents in general. But when he confidently rested 
his case, the country mouse, a timid and gentle creature, 
spoke up, painting an idyllic picture of life in the open, gently 
emphasizing the delicious leftovers in the country kitchen, the 
sweet smell of hay in the barn, the coziness of attics in the 
winter, the feeling of space and freedom, and, above all, the 
security offered by fields and forests. The issue was settled 
after the country mouse had returned home, when the town 
mouse, overconfident of urban security, fell a prey to the 
machinations of a cat, who devoured him with the sophisti- 
cated relish peculiar to city felines. Miss Murphy, who read 
aloud to us, appeared neither interested in nor moved by the 
McGuffey stories. She read without nuances and exhibited no 
emotion. Completely indifferent to the music of poetry, she 
would recite a line like the exquisite. "How would I like to go 
up in a Swing, Up in the air so blue!" in a cold, earthbound 
voice, look up from her book, and say: "Plotkin, spell 
'swing.' " Yet she was an excellent disciplinarian, and our 
class speedily gained a reputation for good spelling. 

She also conceived and put into effect a new system for the 
handling of hats and overcoats which saved time and enabled 
us to begin our studies in the mornings a few minutes after 
nine and to be out on the street soon after the bell rang at 
three. The system was simplicity itself. As each boy entered 

Life on Stanton Street 67 

the class, he deposited his hat and coat on a designated spot 
on the floor on either side of the blackboard. At nine o'clock, 
at noon, at one, and at three, two boys selected for their 
strength and stamina would station themselves in front of the 
class to right and left of the room. Each of the two would 
pick up a hat and coat from the heap in front of him, hold it 
aloft for recognition. The owner would then announce his 
name and open wide his arms to receive the garments flung 
in his direction. For a few minutes the air would be filled with 
hurtling coats, scarves, hats, and, on rainy or snowy days, 
rubbers and rubber boots. But it offered the pleasures of a 
humorous game, what with the uncertain aim of the throwers 
and the possibility of being knocked over by a too speedily 
propelled overcoat. For this innovation and her general effi- 
ciency Miss Murphy was soon liked and even admired. 

Miss Murphy lived in Brooklyn, an hour's journey by the 
Grand Street horse-car to the East River, the ferry to cross 
it, and another horse-car on the other side. She therefore al- 
ways brought her lunch with her. This consisted, much to our 
surprise, of one sandwich of jam, the bread remarkably white 
and of the texture of cotton, and one thin slice of sponge cake, 
each wrapped in tissue paper, and both done up in brown 
wrapping paper and tied with cord. It seemed to all of us 
rather meager nourishment for a strong-minded, powerful 
woman. But I had heard it said that Christians in general ate 
sparingly, the women especially showing a marked distaste 
for food. The men, on the other hand, were partial to drink, 
as could be verified by visiting the Bowery around the corner 
from the street I lived on. When she dismissed her class at 
noon, Miss Murphy would ask one of her pupils to run out 
and buy her a bottle of milk, and we soon began to regard 
this errand as a privilege and a special mark of favor. Yet 
she was careful to rotate us, and by the end of the term every 
boy in the class had bought her a bottle of milk. She had a 
way of saying: "Would you hand me my puhss?" which we 


thought elegant. When the pocketbook was handed to her, 
she would extract a coin from It delicately with her thumb 
and forefinger, the little finger stretched out as if she was 
about to bring forth something precious or highly dangerous. 
She ate her lunch privately, seated at her desk. Even with no 
one to see her, one could be sure that she ate her jam sandwich 
with the decorum of Chaucer's "Nonne, a Prioresse," and 
"let no morsel from her lippes falle." Incidentally, the sand- 
wich was responsible for my first demerit In class, the morn- 
ing when Miss Murphy taught us to sing "Columbia, the 
jam of the ocean." I thought of Miss Murphy's sandwich and 
could not repress a giggle when we sang the opening line with 
its stress on the word "jam." Sometimes Miss Murphy 
would bring a bunch of violets, which she would place in a 
glass of water on her desk. She looked stylish at all times, her 
hair in a pompadour, a gold watch pinned on her blouse, a 
large, black patent-leather belt around her waist. She was 
immaculate. At least twice each day she would remove the 
flowers, dip the tips of her fingers In the glass of water, and 
wipe them with her handkerchief. So conscious did the class 
become of Miss Murphy's fastidiousness that for Christmas 
most of her pupils gave her a cake of soap. 

Stanton Street was an exciting place in which to live. It was 
the shopping center of the neighborhood, and in men's cloth- 
Ing it rivaled Hester Street. Perhaps in volume of sales 
Hester Street stood supreme; but its garments were in the 
main second-hand, while Stanton Street's were quite new. 
Furthermore, samples of the clothes on Stanton Street could 
be seen in all their chic and splendor on marvelous, lifelike 
dummies in the shop windows. One window that held me 
spellbound displayed a father with an elaborate mustache, 
surrounded by his five sons, ranging in size from an infant to a 
young man almost as tall as his parent. Each child wore the 
clothes suited to his age. I yearned for the blue sailor suit 
with whistle attached on the fourth son, a child of about my 

Life on Stanton Street 69 

age. It occupied my thoughts and even dreams for years. 

Stanton Street had other attractions besides shop windows. 
Organ-grinders with monkeys would appear at all hours and 
play a varied assortment of music. Through them I learned 
many popular songs, but the only one I can now recall is 
Sweet Rosie O'Grady. 1 found it a sweet ballad and a tender 
declaration of love, notwithstanding its waltz-like rhythm. 
The organ-grinders played other tunes of a more serious char- 
icter, which, through repetition, I learned to sing, though it 
<vas years before I discovered their identity. Among them 
^vere the "Miserere" from // Trovatore and "Addio delpassato" 
From La Traviata, both of which brought tears to my eyes. 
Often I would follow an organ-grinder through many streets 
ind so hear the "Miserere" perhaps a dozen times over, never 
failing to respond to the somber, inexpressibly sad minor 
:hords at the beginning and the noble but equally doleful 
nelody in major which comes soon after. I have since won- 
iered at Verdi's predilection for the major mode to convey 
sadness, and his success in doing the opposite of what all 
)ther composers before and after him did. 

Stanton Street ended at the Bowery, a block away from the 
louse in which I lived. The Bowery was in bad odor with all 
:he parents of the neighborhood for a great many reasons, 
ill of them concerned with the welfare of the children. The 
street was the habitat of drunks and criminals, the latter so 
xdd and vicious that they were often more than a match for 
:he policemen who attempted to restrain them. Nevertheless, 
:he temptation to explore for oneself so infamous a street was 
:oo strong to resist. In company with a playmate or two for 
protection in case of assault, I frequently roamed the Bowery 
is far north as Eighth Street and south to Chatham Square. 
[t is true that nothing noteworthy ever happened, but the din 
>f the elevated trains passing overhead, their engines belching 
smoke and sending showers of sparks and cinders down on 
:he wagons and pedestrians below, the noise coming through 


the swinging doors of the many saloons, the spectacle of 
drunkards swaying and teetering and talking loudly to them- 
selves, combined to give us a delicious feeling of daring and 
fear. Sometimes the Bowery invaded Stanton Street in the 
persons of derelict women we called "Mary Sugar Bums." 
The poor, dirty, ragged creatures would come reeling into 
our block, cursing and swearing, and we would run after them, 
calling out "Mary Sugar Bum! Mary Sugar Bum!" and they 
would threaten us grotesquely with their fists and lunge at us 
futilely when we came too close. 

There was always excitement on Stanton Street from the 
time school let out until supper time, and for an hour or two 
between that meal and bedtime. Something was always hap- 
pening, and our attention was continually being shifted from 
one excitement to another. "What's-a-matter?" was a per- 
petual query as we were attracted by a sudden frantic exodus 
from a tenement, the clang of an ambulance as it drew up in 
front of a house, a person desperately running, pursued by a 
crowd, a runaway horse and wagon, a policeman forcibly 
propelling a drunk and twisting his arm until the wretch 
screamed with pain, an altercation through open windows 
between next-door neighbors. Occasionally there was the ex- 
citement of a Western Union messenger trying to deliver a 
telegram and asking the children playing on the street on what 
floor its recipient might live, for there were no bells or letter 
boxes in the entrance corridors of the tenements on Stanton 
Street. The mailman blew a whistle in the downstairs hall and 
called out names in a voice loud enough to be heard even on 
the fifth floor, and people would come running downstairs to 
get their letters. 

The arrival of a telegram was a most serious occurrence. 
Everybody knew that telegrams were dispatched only to an- 
nounce the death of a relative or friend or, at the very least, 
a serious illness; and the appearance of the fateful, gray-clad 
messenger was sure to draw a crowd. On hearing the name 

Life on Stanton Street 7 1 

of the addressee, the people would speculate aloud on the 
identity of the deceased, and some neighbor might offer to 
precede the messenger and tactfully and mercifully prepare 
the bereaved for the tidings to follow. "Something terrible 
has happened Mrs. Cohen just got a telegram!" 

Every day after supper I would beg to be allowed to play 
for a while in front of the house, where I could be seen from 
our windows and, at the proper time, summoned to bed. 
Between sundown and evening, on fair days, Stanton Street 
had an enchantment of its own. The dying sun benevolently 
lacquered the garish red-brick buildings, softly highlighting a 
window, a cornice, or a doorway. We would play on the side- 
walks and in the gutter until the air grew dark and we could 
barely tell who was who. Then the lamplighter would emerge 
from the Bowery, carrying his lighted stick in one hand and 
a small ladder in the other. In the light of the gas lamps we 
played leapfrog over the empty milk cans in front of the 
grocery store. Each of us would vault over a single can and 
then, if successful, augment the hazard by adding a can for 
the next leap. Some of us learned to vault over as many as 
seven cans! Or we would play hide-and-go-seek in the dim 
vestibules of the tenement houses. We very rarely left off 
our play to return home voluntarily. Those of us who were 
sought out and induced to go home by mothers or sisters were 
fortunate, for the appearance of one's father on the scene 
carried with it the certainty of punishment. Fathers, with few 
exceptions, were insensitive, brutal, and quick to resort to 
force in obtaining obedience. 

Mothers, too, frequently resorted to force, but only after 
they had exhausted all peaceful means. I would sometimes try 
my mother's patience to a degree that drove her to the re- 
taliatory use of what sounded like curse words. I suspected 
they were not actual words, though, spoken passionately, 
they sounded authentic enough. They must have been inven- 
tions that would have the force but not the connotation of 


curses one could properly call down on persons one didn't love 
or wasn't related to, for no one else ever used them and I 
never discovered their meaning. "You can go tar-tar-ar-ee!" 
my mother would shout wildly at me, as if she were consign- 
ing me to the devil. The effect, for the moment, was the same. 
For the most part, however, my mother found relief in 
rhetorical queries addressed to the heavens, like "What does 
he want of me? Does he wish to shorten my life?" Or she 
would hurl an epithet and cannily negate it in the same breath, 
like "The cholera should seize him not!" My father wasted 
no time with me when by chance he came into the room at 
such critical moments. "Let me handle him," he would say 
grimly as he placed himself between us. "Skinning alive, that's 
what he needs," and he would undo his belt preparatory to 
carrying out what he thought I needed. My mother would 
then interfere and make excuses for me and the half-with- 
drawn belt would be reluctantly returned to its place. But on 
one occasion the two acted in concert against me, thus bring- 
ing about the first great disillusionment of my life. 

I had disobeyed strict orders not to go outdoors barefoot 
on a cold rainy afternoon. I returned several hours later with 
every expectation of being scolded by my mother or punished 
by my father if he happened to be home. I found both of 
them at home, but my apprehensions vanished when I saw 
no anger or resentment in their faces. On the contrary, my 
father asked me in a pleasant way if I had had a good time, 
the while he busied himself undoing the knots in a clothesline. 
I said I had and went to the window to signal my friends on 
the street that everything was all right, when suddenly I was 
seized from behind and felt my mother's arms hard around 
me. A second later my father had bound my legs and hands 
with the clothesline and dragged me with shame to tell! 
my mother's help into the kitchen, where he tied me fast to 
a leg of the sink. My father's deceptive behavior did not 
surprise me; I could expect it of him. But my mother's perfidy 

Life on Stanton Street 73 

shattered In one Instant my previously unquestioned trust in 
her love for me. My refuge and security were gone. My world 
had toppled around me. If such things could be, my only 
wish was to die. An hour later I was released, but my free- 
dom, while physically gratifying, could not restore the faith 
I had lost. It was weeks before I would permit my mother to 
touch me. 

We lived in Stanton Street for about a year. My father, not 
having the capital to open a cheder of his own, taught Hebrew 
to a few boys in their homes. This brought in very little 
money. Besides, the inattention of the pupils, who could not 
keep their eyes on the Bible, but kept staring out of the 
window, brought on my father's old headaches. Furthermore, 
he came up against a newfangled idea among parents that 
teachers were not to administer corporal punishment. It had 
not been so in the old country. And my father would rather 
give up a pupil than' relinquish so necessary and important a 
prerogative. My mother reminded him that beggars could not 
be choosers, but he insisted that they could; they could choose 
starvation! At any rate, he required nothing, or very little, for 
himself. All he needed, he said, was a piece of bread and 
herring and a roof over his head. 

Nevertheless, he usually ate what we all did. Friday nights 
he would expect and plainly relish a full ceremonial dinner of 
several courses, beginning with a stuffed fish, the head of 
which was reserved for him, and of which he ate all but the 
eyes and the more resistant bones. There would then follow 
sweet and sour meat roasted to a point of delicious disinte- 
gration and flanked by roast potatoes saturated in gravy, and 
limp, candied carrots. Soup would come last, and my father 
would help himself to two brimful plates from the large bowl 
placed in the center of the table. He was inordinately fond of 
calf s-foot jelly, which my mother would cook on Fridays and 
put out on the fire escape to cool. On Saturday after Minche 
(late afternoon prayers) it would be served, preceded by a 


little whisky, as a delicate collation for him and a fellow 
worshipper he generally brought home with him. All in all, 
he ate so very well that it was difficult to believe his declara- 
tions of austerity. 

My oldest brother, Albert, had married and had gone to live 
in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he practiced carpeptry 
and undertook small repair jobs. He had talked my brother 
Solomon, next to him in age, into going with him, with a view 
to their forming a partnership as builders and contractors. My 
brother Louis, aged fourteen, got himself a job as a presser's 
assistant in a tailor shop in the vicinity of Stanton Street. My 
three older sisters found work in a cigarette factory. My 
younger sister hadn't yet reached the kindergarten age. She 
played around the house and got in my mother's way, and 
when sent to play in the street, frequently fell down the 
stairs. Neighbors would pick her up and carry her upstairs, 
and my mother would have to drop her work and apply 
poultices and bandages and still her cries, thus defeating the 
purpose for which she had been relegated to the streets. After 
school hours I would help out my mother for an hour or so 
by ''minding" the unstable child. 

Though most of our family were employed, their aggregate 
earnings provided the barest subsistence for us. It is true that 
on Friday nights we invariably had a feast, but that repast was 
made possible only by economy and deprivation during the 
rest of the week. I was generally hungry, and I always 
invested the penny I infrequently got from my mother in 
"broken cake" at the grocery store. Sweet biscuits in that 
era were sold, on the East Side at any rate, from large barrels, 
and "broken cake" was the name for the bits and splinters of 
biscuits remaining in the bottom when all of the unfractured 
dainties had been removed. We longed, of course, for the 
biscuits in their original unharmed condition. Yet "broken 
cake" had a flavor of its own, owing to the very circumstance 
that caused its degradation. Lying crushed and chipped under 

Life on Stanton Street 75 

the weight of its unharmed fellows above, it assimilated a 
variety of aromas, so that the flavor of a piece of "broken 
cake" offered a concentration of all the flavors of all the 
biscuits in the barrel. I preferred "broken cake" to candy at 
"Cheap Charlie's," where one could buy ten chocolate- 
coated walnuts for a penny. 

Every street had a "Cheap Charlie." I used to wonder at 
the singularity of the candy-store business being exclusively 
in the hands of men of the same name. These candy stores had 
an extraordinary attraction for children because of the personal 
attitude of Charlie to his young customers. This was an even 
more potent lure than the advertised cheapness of Charlie's 
wares, which we accepted on faith without inquiry or com- 
parison. Charlie was human and understanding, and was not 
above entering into the problems of his patrons. Thus it was 
possible, when one did not happen to have a penny at the 
moment, to confide in Charlie and, on a promise to pay up at 
the first opportunity, to leave the store with the chocolate- 
covered walnuts in a paper bag. The groceryman was less 
understanding. I suspected that my mother was responsible 
for his insistence on prompt payment for "broken cake." Nor 
did I have the heart to blame her. Her own relations with the 
man were often delicate. I myself had witnessed humiliating 
scenes in which he categorically refused to give her further 
credit. But my mother always managed to persuade him to 
change his mind, alleging an imminent favorable turn of 
events for us which would promptly take care of all our 
financial indebtedness. 

In school the time for promotion drew near and a great 
uneasiness swept the class. The fear of being "left back" 
gripped all but a very few boys who were obviously so 
brilliant that it was early conceded by the rest of us, as well as 
by themselves, that there would be no question about their 
promotion. Being "left back" was definitely a dishonor. But 
not because it was a reflection on one's scholarship. Scholar- 


ship was, in fact, suspect, and the "smart" boys who got A's 
or "stars" became the objects of ribbing and were likely to 
suffer ostracism. Being "left back" doomed one to loneliness, 
the sudden disruption of friendships, and a separation from the 
Intrigues, scandals, pleasantries, and feeling of solidarity of a 
long-established class. Long before the dreaded day arrived 
we could see Miss Murphy working on the "promotion list" 
during our study periods. We tried hard to guess at the names 
she so carefully wrote out by watching the movements of her 
pen. The crossing of a "t" or the dotting of an "i" could be a 
clue in that it ruled out a great many names that did not con- 
tain those letters. The boys who occupied desks in the first 
row were sometimes able to catch a name she was writing: 
a boy would raise his hand for permission to "leave the room," 
as our trips to the water closets were politely called, and in 
making for the door would sidle near Miss Murphy's desk 
and attempt a swift look at the promotion list. But Miss 
Murphy was aware of these stratagems and did what she 
could to defeat them. When she left the room, even for a 
moment, she would lock the list in her desk. 

On promotion day the class arrived all scrubbed and neat, 
with hair combed and definitely parted, the labor of mothers 
who cherished a wild hope that in case of doubt an extra bit of 
cleanliness might tip the scales. Miss Murphy gave no indica- 
tion that she was aware of anything unusual in our appearance. 
Neither by word nor by look did she indicate that she had 
sealed the fate of fifty boys in the document that now reposed 
in her desk. Tense, nervous, and dispirited, we went through 
our usual morning routine. At ten o'clock the monitors left 
their seats and opened the windows halfway with long poles 
while the class rose and exercised their arms and heads with 
Miss Murphy leading and commanding "Inspire! Expire!" 
the class noisily breathing in and out in response. At a quarter 
to twelve the room suddenly became unaccountably still. 
Miss Murphy seated herself by her desk, opened it, and drew 

Life on Stanton Street 77 

out the promotion list. I could see the red line down the 
middle of the page, looking like a thin blood barrier, which 
separated the names on either side. Miss Murphy, before 
addressing herself to the list, was exasperatingly deliberate in 
tidying the top of her desk, arranging her pencils in a row, 
and moving the water glass with its little bouquet of flowers 
to one side. At last she was ready. 

"I shall now read the promotion list," she announced. "As 
your name is called, rise and stand in the aisle. Those whose 
names are not called will remain seated." This seemed to 
foreshadow doom for many. Classes were known to have 
been promoted en masse. Clearly ours would not be one of 
these. The class held its breath as Miss Murphy again gave 
her attention to the list. "Abramowitz," Miss Murphy in- 
toned, and Abramowitz got to his feet precipitately and stood 
in the aisle. "Abrams, Abramson, Askenasy." The B's seemed 
endless, but at last Miss Murphy said: "Chasmanovitch." 
There was a pause. "Chisel" followed "Chasmanovitch" in 
the daily roll call. What about Chisel? Chisel's fate did not 
concern me. Ordinarily I would have wished him well. But if 
Chisel was not on the list my name should come next. Why 
did Miss Murphy pause? What could the hesitation portend 
for me? I waited for the blow. Should Miss Murphy now 
pronounce the name of Cohen, then both Chisel and I had 
been "left back." My eyes isolated Miss Murphy's lips as 
they began to form a name. "Chisel!" Miss Murphy pro- 
nounced, and the wretch (his desk was in front of mine), who 
had slumped down in his seat in despair, now looked about 
him incredulously, like a criminal who had received a last- 
minute reprieve. Slowly he got up and shifted over into the 
aisle. I continued to stare at Miss Murphy's lips. There was 
another pause, and then I heard my name, clear and loud. I 
stepped into the aisle in a daze and stood there for a long 
time, experiencing no sensation of any kind. It was like the 
suspension of consciousness. Then all at once I was aware of 


many boys standing in the aisles and Miss Murphy was calling 
out "Rabinowitz, Redin, Rickin, Sokolov, Spingold, Stein- 
berg, Teitelbaum, Ulansky, Wissotzky, Yarmolovsky, 
Zeitlin." It was all over. Three wretched boys still sat: 
Katzenelenbogen, Gershowitz, and Vlacheck. Katzenelen- 
bogen had covered his face with his hands and was crying 
softly. Gershowitz, his face white, stared straight in front of 
him. Vlacheck alone showed no signs of defeat. He had been 
"left back" twice before, and he smiled and leered as if he 
had expected nothing else and rather gloried in continuing to 
belong to a minority. 

We promoted boys, at a command from Miss Murphy, 
closed ranks and were marched into an adjacent classroom, 
where we found four dejected boys, the leftovers of our new 
grade. Miss Murphy made us a formal farewell address and 
turned us over to Miss Applebaum, our new teacher. Then 
the bell rang and we marched into the street and scattered 
quickly to our homes, for once not loitering to talk and plan, 
in our eagerness to carry the good news to our families. 

I was now a third-grader. My promotion had given me a 
new confidence in myself, and I looked forward to an inter- 
esting term with my old schoolmates under the tutelage of 
Miss Applebaum. But before a week had passed, my parents 
decided, most unaccountably, I thought, to leave Stanton 
Street and move to distant East Broadway, a neighborhood I 
had never even seen. In consequence, I obtained a transfer to 
P.S. No. 2 on Henry, between Rutgers and Market streets. 
Except for the fact that I was assigned to the third grade in 
the new school, I was in all other respects in the position of a 
Katzenelenbogen, Gershowitz, or Vlacheck, for my class- 
mates were all new to me and I had to set about making new 

East Broadway was a wide thoroughfare. Our apartment 
on the third floor of a house on the corner of Rutgers Street 
overlooked a large square, or rather oblong, adorned by a large 

Life on Stanton Street 79 

black marble fountain, rising in several tiers. I could sense the 
possibilities of the neighborhood. For, besides the fountain, 
all the buildings on the west side of East Broadway, extending 
from Essex to Jefferson streets, had been razed for the 
eventual construction of a park, and the debris offered the 
very terrain for possible war games, with rival armies march- 
ing and counter-marching and striving to gain certain desirable 
heights. It would be at least a year before the place could be 
cleared and the park begun, and I foresaw many late after- 
noons and evenings, not to speak of Sundays, devoted to 
maneuvers, with myself in some kind of leading role, perhaps 
as captain of a powerful striking force. The potentialities of 
the place were innumerable. Looking up Rutgers Street to- 
ward the east, there was the river in the distance, with boats 
of every description plying up and down. Huge warehouses 
near the water's edge were forever discharging crates and 
barrels with mysterious contents, and at night one could sit 
on the large empty trucks parked on the wharves and watch 
the river and the lights from Brooklyn across it. 

"Within walking distance were splendors like Brooklyn 
Bridge, the City Hall, and the Post Office. The mysterious 
alleys of Chinatown were no more than half a mile away. 
Certainly East Broadway, at its meeting with Rutgers Square, 
was the center of the universe, and I looked forward to an 
exciting and fruitful existence on it. But the prospect of a 
strange school, a new teacher, and new schoolmates was un- 
pleasant, and I would gladly have relinquished the future 
delights of East Broadway for the old routine and associations 
of Stanton Street. 





.HE windows of our three-room railroad flat 
looked down on the big fountain in Rutgers Square, a huge 
plaza into which flowed four important thoroughfares: East 
Broadway, Canal Street, Rutgers Street, and Essex Street. 
The fountain was a tapering, eye-filling, circular structure 
surrounded by two semicircular stone benches. It had a broad 
basin four or five feet above the base, and two graduated 
smaller basins in tiers above it. The stone benches were al- 
ways occupied. In the morning they held mothers and babies 
and women shoppers tired out from bargain-hunting, the 
pursuit of which necessitated visiting distant markets, some- 
times a mile from their homes. In the late afternoon, school- 
children took over the fountain, sailing paper boats in the 
lowest basin and playing tag around the benches. In the 
evening, after a hot day, old people sat around to catch what 

The Fountain 81 

tenuous breezes might hover over the square. The old people 
seldom stayed long, and they were succeeded by young 
couples who had been walking hand-in-hand in the square, 
waiting for a chance to sit down in the proximity promised by 
the crowded benches around the fountain. 

Presumably the small tenements could not accommodate the 
old people and the young at the same time. Privacy in the 
home was practically unknown. The average apartment 
consisted of three rooms: a kitchen, a parlor, and a doorless 
and windowless bedroom between. The parlor became a 
sleeping-room at night. So did the kitchen when families were 
unusually large. Perhaps because of the accessibility of the 
light refreshment that it was customary to offer guests, the 
kitchen rather than the parlor became the living-room until 
bedtime, and all social life centered in it. Made comparatively 
presentable after a long day of cooking, eating, and the 
washing of dishes and laundry, it was the scene of formal 
calls at our house and of the visits of friends and prospective 
suitors. However, the etiquette of courting was strict. A 
transplantation from the old country, it had well-defined 
prohibitions known to everyone. Chaperonage was an ac- 
knowledged institution, and the chaperon could even be, if 
necessary, a child. When a gentleman offered to call on one 
of my sisters on a night when I was to be the only other 
member of the family at home, my mother, before leaving the 
house, would openly caution me to remain in the kitchen until 
the visitor had taken his leave. On the other hand, it was 
considered proper for young people to go walking together, 
attend concerts and balls and the theater. But in such cases the 
parents were to be apprised beforehand of the extent and 
duration of the walk or the nature of the entertainment. It 
therefore turned out, ironically enough, that privacy could be 
had only in public. The streets in the evening were thick with 
promenading couples, and the benches around the fountain and 
in Jackson Street Park, and the empty trucks lined up at the 


river front, were filled with lovers who had no other place to 
meet. Boys of my age were required to be at home around 
ten at night. Those of us who were still in the streets at that 
hour might decide perversely to hang around the fountain 
with the intent of embarrassing the lovers on the benches. 
We would sneak up on them from behind and imitate the 
amorous confidences we imagined they exchanged. "Darling!" 
we would whisper, "I love you more than the world. Will you 
marry me?" And one of us would answer mincingly: "Yes, 
dear, I will marry you and we will have many children," 
the daring afterthought being intended to convey the abnor- 
mally advanced state of our sophistication. 

The conversation of lovers I did overhear was on the more 
serious plane of politics, religion, literature, and the theater. 
The majority of these young people were immigrants, and 
their language was still Yiddish, with an admixture of Rus- 
sian, Polish, Romanian, German, and English words and 
phrases. They worked in dark, fetid sweatshops, in airless 
attics and cellars. They attended night schools and read 
liberal, socialist, or anarchist newspapers and magazines. 
Politically and ideologically they were at odds with their 
parents and grandparents, who leaned through habit and 
tradition toward conservatism and paternalism. In the minds of 
the older people, unionism or criticism of constituted au- 
thority and resistance to it invariably led to atheism, or at 
least to a slackness in the observance of the laws and tradi- 
tions of religious orthodoxy. Yet, though their expressed 
opinions were iconoclastic, the actual behavior of the young 
people was strictly, though unconsciously, in the tradition of 
their elders. 

One of the topics in the air in that period was the double 
standard of morality. The Russian author Chernishevsky 
had written a novel on the subject, and the book, though not 
new, was enjoying a vogue on the East Side. What is to be 
Done? was its provocative title. It posed for its heroine and, 

The Fountain 83 

by extension, to all women, the question of acceptance or 
rejection of the hitherto unchallenged promiscuity of males. 
The author himself took the most serious view of the license 
enjoyed by men, and pleaded through the mouth of his 
heroine for a single standard for both sexes. As a final gesture 
of protest the heroine committed suicide, but I don't remem- 
ber what effect this act of desperation had on the question 
involved. I do remember that What is to be Done? was ear- 
nestly debated in my own house, on the sidewalks, and on the 
benches by the Rutgers Square fountain, and that sympathy 
was generally on the side of the heroine and the author. The 
male arguments against a single standard appeared to lack 
force, and almost always capitulated to the sterner moral and 
spiritual convictions of the opposition. Perhaps the lack of 
privacy contributed to the high moral tone of the East Side 
intellectuals. What is to be Done? may have helped to sublimate 
this deprivation, as did the moralistic Russian and Yiddish 
literature that formed the chief intellectual fare of those days. 
"The wages of sin is death," Tolstoy had inscribed under the 
title of Anna Karenina, and no one ever questioned the stern 
judgment of the author on his beautiful and erring heroine. 
Infidelity, promiscuity, and all other sexual aberrations were 
held to be incompatible with the life of the spirit and the 
intellect in a serious world where young men and women 
labored ten and twelve hours a day merely to keep body and 
soul together. In these circles love was held to be primarily 
intellectual. Young people met in classrooms, in night schools, 
at lectures on politics, economics, and literature, at plays 
and at concerts, and seemed to be drawn to one another by a 
community of interests rather than by chemical affinity. The 
ignorant, the idlers, and loafers of both sexes managed to 
achieve vulgar and sordid relations, and there were frequent 
betrayals and sex scandals. But those attachments which had 
an intellectual basis generally led to marriage. A cousin of 
ours who worked in a sweatshop and studied dentistry at 


night was introduced to a girl at a concert and ball In Py- 
thagoras Hall on East Broadway. While dancing with him the 
girl confessed to a passion for Dostoievsky's Crime and 
Punishment, the very book he admired most in the world. They 
fell in love, and on his receiving his dentist's diploma two 
years later, they married. Love was, indeed, a serious and 
lofty matter among the young men and women in Rutgers 

In summer the fountain in Rutgers Square played all day, 
and in the late afternoon and on Sundays the more adven- 
turous boys of the neighborhood would strip and dive into 
the lowest basin. This was prohibited by law, and a warning 
to that effect was painted on the basin's rim. One of us would 
be delegated to stand guard over the heap of discarded pants, 
shirts, underwear, shoes, and stockings and to keep an eye 
open for policemen. Espying one, the lookout would let out a 
piercing "Cheese it the cops!" grab a handful of garments, 
and make for a certain prearranged meeting-place. The 
swimmers would scramble out of the basin and scatter in all 
directions. This was also prearranged to confuse our pursuer, 
who, not being quick enough in deciding which direction to 
take, would generally stand helpless for the time it took the 
boys to make good their escape. A few minutes later we 
would all have made our way, dripping but elated, to some 
dark tenement vestibule, or have descended to the cellar 
workshop and living-quarters of some friendly ragpicker or 
shoemaker, whither our sentry had preceded us with our 
clothes. And sometime later we would emerge, singly, of 
course, to allay suspicion, and saunter nonchalantly back to 
the fountain, perhaps under the puzzled scrutiny of the very 
cop who had caused our flight. 

Better swimming was to be had in the river a few blocks 
east of the fountain. There it was perfectly legal to dive off 
the docks provided one wore one's underwear. On really hot 

The Fountain 85 

days we repaired to the waterfront, but we preferred the 
fountain because of its risks. 

The law also frowned on gangs. For that reason it behooved 
one to belong to a gang. I applied for admission to the East 
Broadwayers soon after we moved into the neighborhood, and 
after submitting to a series of physical tortures to test my 
powers of endurance, I was accepted and solemnly installed 
as a member. The East Broadwayers was a loose association 
of young residents of a well-defined area. Their professed aim 
was to detest all outlying gangs whose forces were numeri- 
cally comparable to their own, and to dedicate themselves 
practically to the harassment and, ideally, to the complete 
destruction of the others. Rival gangs of approximately equal 
man-power delivered ultimatums to one another and met 
openly in battle on their home grounds or on the enemy's 
terrain, the choice of battlefield being the acknowledged 
prerogative of the challenger. With sticks and stones and 
whatever else was at hand for weapons, the battle would often 
last from after school to past supper time, when the armies 
would disintegrate upon the advent of worried relations, who 
would collar and bear off large contingents of fighters, in- 
cluding, perhaps, the intrepid leaders themselves. 

Every 'Street had its gang, but the exigencies of geography 
necessitated alliances among gangs of contiguous streets. The 
East Broadwayers joined up with the Jefferson and Madison 
Streeters and the Rutgers Streeters and operated as a solid 
block against associated gangs residing in more distant 
neighborhoods. Our chief enemies were the combined forces 
of the Cherry, Pike, and Montgomery Streeters, though 
sometimes powerful gangs from the remote purlieus of 
Brooklyn Bridge or the Grand Street waterfront conducted 
swift raids on the East Broadwayers and retreated hastily 
before we could summon the aid of our allies. In these 
lightning skirmishes some of us were so conspicuously 


mauled that we feared additional punishment at home and 
consequently remained in the streets long after bedtime, 
laving our wounds in the dirty waters of the fountain and 
inventing plausible excuses to account for our injuries. When 
our wounds looked as if they might become serious, we re- 
paired, escorted by an honor guard, to the Gouverneur Street 
Hospital, where we were bandaged neatly and sometimes 
outfitted with impressive arm-slings. We then made our way 
home, conscious of our importance, followed at a respectful 
distance by admiring comrades. 

Gang laws prohibited members of rival gangs from passing 
through each other's territory. Strange faces aroused suspi- 
cion, and it was mandatory for an East Broadwayer to accost 
any boy he did not know and put the question: "What 
Streeter?" To incur punishment, the stranger did not even 
have to belong to a rival gang. It was enough if he lived on an 
enemy street. This was so well known that boys would take 
to their heels without answering the fateful query, and so 
frequently make their escape. To avoid unpleasantness, boys 
whose shortest way to school lay through forbidden territory 
were obliged to make lengthy detours. 

Aside from the hazard of gang warfare, there was also the 
hazard of racial and nationalistic enmity. Cherry Street was 
completely Irish and Catholic, while the neighborhood of 
East Broadway and Rutgers Square was predominantly 
Jewish. Being numerically superior, we felt no antagonism 
for the non-Jewish in our midst, rather looking upon them 
with the friendly contempt one normally felt for goyim. An 
Irish family lived in a rear apartment on our floor. They 
were an unusually dirty group, the parents much given to 
drunkenness and quarreling. Yet our relations were cordial, 
and my mother and her Christian neighbor would exchange 
lengthy visits, though neither understood a word of the other's 

I, however, longed to see for myself the forbidden, solidly 

The Fountain 87 

Christian territory of Cherry Street, and one Saturday morn- 
ing I entered the street and walked, nervous and apprehensive, 
for several blocks without molestation. At the corner of 
Montgomery Street two boys leaning against a lamppost 
looked closely at me as I passed them. Trying hard to repress 
any signs of fear, I walked on. They left their lamppost and 
walked behind me. Suddenly they spurted ahead and barred 
my way. I said: "Wha's a matter?" and one of them countered 
with "What Streeter?" "Grand Streeter," I lied. The Grand 
and the Cherry Streeters, I knew, had recently concluded a 
mutual-assistance pact. This seemed to satisfy my questioner. 
But his friend now took another tack. "Hey!" he said, looking 
me over carefully. "Are you a sheeny?" "Me?" I said, 
summoning a wretched smile. "No! I'm a Chreestch." I 
had now silenced my second tormentor. "Well, I gotta go," I 
hazarded breezily, and started to walk. "Wait a minute," the 
first one said, grabbing me by the arm. "Let's see if you're a 
Chreestch." I knew what he meant. I broke loose from his 
hold and started running as fast as I could, the two after me. 
Fear gave me the speed to outdistance them, and presently my 
feet were on friendly territory and my pursuers dared go no 
farther. The story of my adventure and escape, embellished 
with some highly imaginative details, was speedily incor- 
porated into the oral collection of the heroic exploits of the 
East Broadwayers. 

The days in summer and winter were crowded with inci- 
dents, amusing, soul-satisfying, perilous, or adventurous (at 
the very least, one could find satisfaction in just being an 
onlooker) . There were gang wars to be fought, policemen to 
annoy and outwit, and sentimental couples to be teased and 
ridiculed. Standing unobserved at one's window, one could 
focus a burning-glass on the face of a person resting on the 
stone bench of the fountain and relish his annoyance and anger 
as he tried helplessly to locate his tormentor. From the same 
vantage point, one could let down a weight attached to a long 


string, conk the head of a passer-by, and draw up the missile 
before the victim could look around for the offender; or, 
with the aid of an accomplice stationed on the curb, stretch a 
string head-high across the sidewalk, which, unseen by some 
unsuspecting pedestrian, would lift his straw hat or derby 
from his head and send it rolling down the street. There were 
the great games of leave-e-o, prisoner's base, and one-o'-cat 
to be played, the last limitlessly peripatetic, so that one might 
start to play on East Broadway and wind up, hours later, on 
the Bowery. There were ambulances to be run after and 
horse-cars to hang on to unobserved by the conductor. If 
one was on intimate terms with a currier in a livery stable, 
one could sit bareback astride a horse and ride through the 
streets. Something was constantly happening which one had 
to repair to the spot to see at first hand. People were being 
knocked down by horse-cars. There were altercations on 
every street, often ending in blows. The changing of street- 
car horses at certain termini was a spectacle well worth a 
walk of a mile. One could run after an ambulance with a 
view to being in a position to give an eyewitness account of an 
accident to one's comrades. There were parades to be fol- 
lowed, also organ-grinders, bums, and itinerant sellers of 
cure-alls, who would assemble a crowd in a moment, deliver a 
stream of seemingly sensible, yet strangely incomprehensible, 
oratory, quickly dispose of some wares, and suddenly move 
on. There was Chinatown to be explored. Familiarity could 
not dispel the delicious fear of a walk through Mott and Pell 
streets or curb one's speculation on what went on behind the 
bamboo curtains in the dark interiors of dimly lit shops, or, 
for that matter, in the inscrutable heads of the pigtailed 
Chinamen who shuffled along on the narrow sidewalks or sat 
in doorways, smoking pipes and cigarettes. No young boy in 
his senses would face Chinatown alone. We always went in 
twos or larger groups. And when we entered a shop to 
purchase lichee nuts, one of us always remained outside to 

The Fountain 89 

raise an alarm in the not Improbable event of an Oriental 
attempt to kidnap us and mark us out either for lustful murder 
or for something less immediate but more dreadful, known to 
us vaguely as "the white-slave trade." 

On election nights, there were bonfires to watch and 
perhaps assist in making. Fires broke out constantly in all 
seasons, and the air was seldom free from the clang of the 
fire engines, the shrieks of the siren, and the clatter of the 
horses on the cobblestones. Following the fire engines could 
conceivably occupy all one's leisure time. I found the water- 
front fires in winter the most gratifying, for the warehouses 
were large and their contents inflammable, and an entire 
block of buildings could be counted on to go up in smoke 
before the firemen gained control. An esthetic by-product not 
to be underestimated was the lovely spectacle provided by 
the freezing of the water from the fire-hoses the moment it 
touched the buildings. Not infrequently the fire engines led 
directly to one's own house. These fires, whose origin even 
children suspected, were generally less interesting, containing 
no element of suspense, as all the tenants, acting as if through 
some common impulse, had left their homes and were on the 
sidewalks by the time the engines drew up. But they were 
fires none the less, and necessitated the dragging of miles of 
hose into the building and the wielding of hatchets and axes 
by the firemen. Often one arrived breathless at a fire only to 
find that it had been a "fourjoulahm" (a false alarm). "Four- 
joulahms" were held to be the work of criminal-minded 
youngsters, who, we were told, were certain to end up in the 
electric chair. But if they were criminal-minded, they were 
always uncommonly clever in eluding detection. I some- 
times thought they were actuated by nothing more evil than a 
desire (which I shared) to witness a full turnout of fire 
engines. On quiet days I should myself have loved to spread a 
"fourjoulahm" Fortunately for me, quiet days were very 
rare. Besides, there appeared to be no lack of these criminal- 


minded youngsters on the lower East Side. I really was not 
needed, for hardly a day passed without the excitement of a 

Diversions were also available closer to home. One could 
spend a profitable afternoon in one's own back yard. The 
poles for clotheslines soared five stories in the air. To shinny 
up a pole was a feat in itself, and the exhilaration felt on 
reaching the top had a quality of its own. Also there was the 
sense of danger, not actually felt, but induced by the fears of 
the women who watched the ascension from their back 
windows and yelled: "Get down, you bum, you loafer! Do 
you want to get killed?" A restaurant in the adjoining house 
kept its milk cans in our yard. These served for games of 
leapfrog and also offered a means of revenge on the proprietor 
of the restaurant, a man insensitive to the need of children to 
play and make noise. Every time he chased us out of the yard, 
we would return at night, pry open his milk cans, and drop 
sand and pebbles in them. He (and his clientele as well) must 
have also been insensitive to the quality of the milk he was 
imbibing and dispensing, for our unsanitary peccadillo was 
either never discovered or else ignored. 

Tenement roofs offered a series of connected playgrounds. 
The element of danger in playing tag on roofs was consider- 
able enough to heighten the ordinary excitement of the game. 
Cornices were only knee-high. They could hardly be a barrier 
to destruction should one, in running to escape the tagger, fail 
to have the presence of mind to veer quickly to right or left. 
Some buildings were taller than others, thus necessitating a 
thrilling drop of ten or twelve feet, and on returning, an 
equally exciting scrambling up skylights and chimneys. A 
breath-taking hazard was the open air shafts that separated 
houses otherwise contiguous. To miss, even by an inch, a 
jump over an air shaft meant death, but death did not really 
matter. For death was only an academic concept, a word 

The Fountain 91 

without reality, at worst something that could happen only to 

Every variety of adventure was to be had in Rutgers Square 
and its environs. Excitement lay in wait at the turn of a street 
corner, in the somber hallways, in the windows of shops, in 
manure-fragrant stables, in the rubble of demolished buildings, 
in the ruins of fire-swept lofts, in open manholes (one could 
climb down into them at noon when the men working there 
knocked off for lunch) . In the oppressive heat of summer, one 
could revel in the deliciously painful sensation of running 
barefoot over melting asphalt or stand bravely in the path of a 
huge hose the street-cleaners trained on the garbage-strewn, 
burning streets. Threatening skies, thunder and lightning, 
cloudbursts, sheets of slanting rain that one watched from the 
protective vantage of doorways and from behind windows or 
boldly went out to meet in the hope that one would be ob- 
served and admired all these manifestations of mysterious 
power one enjoyed with uneasy delight. Walking barefoot 
along the gutters in the rain, with the water gurgling over 
one's toes, as it washed over the pebbles in the illustration of a 
country scene in a story in McGuffey's Reader, the delicious 
feel of wet garments, one's face upturned to the pelting skies 
and one's mouth open to catch refreshing drops of rain 
these offered untroubled delights. In the late fall, one could 
look forward to the week of Succoth, when my father would 
construct a shelter close to the row of toilets in the back yard 
and cover it with pine branches. Here we would have all our 
meals, even on cold days or when it rained. This was decidedly 
life in the open! Sitting at supper in the rustic hut, with the 
rain leaking through the prickly foliage, gave one a sense of 
communion with nature and the elements and, indeed, of 
being a member of some close-knit, savage tribe. To pass 
from the thatched structure in the yard into Rutgers Square 
was an instant transition from barbarism to civilization. 


In winter the rim of the big basin of the fountain was 
coated with ice, and I could walk on it gingerly, balancing 
myself with my hands like a man on a tightrope, to the ad- 
miration of my little sister, who watched me from our win- 
dow across the street. One day 1 slipped in the act. She saw 
me fall and raised an alarm, and my mother rushed out and 
carried me into the house. The accident left a scar on my 
eyelid which for some years I could point to as a proof of my 
recklessness and daring. A few of the well-to-do boys (the 
sons of doctors) owned sleds, which they agreed to share with 
us on pain of being expelled from the East Broadwayers. The 
first snowfall always arrived on Thanksgiving Day (or so it 
seems now), and the time not spent in school was taken up in 
snowball fights and in making snowmen and building fortifi- 
cations, enormous in size and elaborately constructed for de- 
fense. After successfully withstanding an attack that lasted till 
supper time, it was pleasant to be at home at night, lie on the 
warm floor face down near the stove in the kitchen, and give 
oneself up to the delights of McGuffey's Reader. Soon the 
sweet, fetid, airless, autointoxicating atmosphere of the over- 
heated room would take possession of the senses and one 
would slide into a profound sleep, from which even violent 
shaking by one's mother and the command to "wake up and 
go to sleep" could not pry one loose. 




f THE: 

FHEN I joined my comrades in taunting the 
lovers on the benches by the Rutgers Square fountain, I was 
also aware, through hearsay, that the world of the theater 
on Grand Street and the Bowery was, morally, quite un- 
trammeled. Rumors came to my ears of fascinating irregulari- 
ties in the lives of the chief personages of the Yiddish stage. 
The relish with which these rumors were heard by all but 
very old and very orthodox people, who shunned the theater 
on principle, proved that the stage was a world apart, one not 
subject to the moral code of the world around me. If what one 
heard could be believed, actors led as fabulous an existence in 
real life as in the theater. For one thing, they took their 
marriages lightly. It was said that the rival male stars of 
Grand Street and the Bowery negotiated among themselves an 
exchange of wives for a limited period, after which interlude 


the lawfully wedded couples returned to their former mates. 
In this way, over a period of time, the chief protagonists of the 
Jewish drama got to know each other very well. For this 
reason I determined to be a great actor when I grew up. All 
my playmates did too. 

On my excursions from Stanton Street to the Bowery I had 
often passed the Windsor and Thalia theaters and had been 
fascinated by the posters and photographs that adorned their 
facades and lobbies. And now, in our house on East Broadway 
and from the benches of the fountain, I heard talk of these 
theaters and the new one on Grand Street, of the plays per- 
formed there and the leading players in them. I longed to 
know more about people who each night, and on Saturday and 
Sunday afternoons, assumed the guise of a variety of personali- 
ties, none of them resembling their own in the least. I learned 
to know their faces from their photographs in the Jewish 
daily, Der Tog, which my parents read, and from further 
examination of the exterior and lobbies of the East Side play- 
houses. Long before I saw them in the flesh, I was familiar 
with the faces and figures of Bessie Thomashefsky, her even 
more famous spouse, Boris, Jacob Adler and his ravishing 
wife and fellow Thespian, Sarah, the tragedienne Mrs. K. 
Lipzin, the great Kessler, who generally played opposite her, 
and the lovely and gentle Bertha Kalich, with whose picture 
on a window card I fell in love at first sight. 

Among comedians there was the inimitable Mogilewsky, 
whose very look as Kooneylemul on a poster would send me 
into fits of laughter. Kooneylemul was a lovable character 
whose incredible imbecility and side-splitting simplicity and 
innocence could not conceal the most generous of natures and a 
pathetic belief in the essential goodness of the crass world in 
which he lived. The comedy was called The Two Kooncy- 
lemuh, but at this distance I can recall the presence of only 
one Kooneylemul. I presume the other Kooneylemul was a 
pretender (like the false Dimitri in Boris Godunov), who was 

The Theater 95 

probably unmasked, at the denouement, by the genuine 
Kooneylemul. At any rate, Mogilewsky became wholly 
Identified with the grotesque, lovable Kooneylemul, and, 
along with the stars I have enumerated, became the object of 
my veneration. 

By chance Hamlet was the very first play I was taken to 
see. My two elder sisters had obtained passes for a Sunday 
matinee performance at the Grand Street Theater. People 
went to the theater only on passes because no one, apparently, 
could afford to purchase tickets. At least, I never knew anyone 
who bought one. Passes were obtained in several ways. The 
most common was to induce a shopkeeper on Grand Street, 
Canal Street, or Hester Street to relinquish his allotment by 
offering to make an immediate purchase of something in his 
shop or promising to make one on the very next payday. The 
passes were given out to shopkeepers in exchange for permis- 
sion to display window cards advertising the week's attrac- 
tions at the theaters. By patronizing and cajoling certain 
shopkeepers, my sisters became frequent patrons of the drama. 

On this particular Sunday I experienced a craving to imple- 
ment my theoretical knowledge of the stage and its players. 
Accordingly, I begged to be taken along, and when I was 
denied, on the absurd pretext of my extreme youth, I wept and 
screamed and barred the door to all egress. My mother 
interceding for me, and the time growing late, my oldest 
sister relinquished her pass in my favor, and my other sister 
and I ran at top speed to the Grand Street Theater. Our passes 
called for places in the gallery near the ceiling, and presently 
we were seated. For the first time in my life I beheld the 
inside of a theater. I sat and gazed in wonder at the vast 
interior, rich in ornament, at the dark-red curtain painted to 
look like the two halves of a lush, heavy drapery slightly 
parted at the bottom, with golden fringes outlining each half, 
the whole embraced by a heavy golden rope looped at the 
ends. The audience was still arriving, and there appeared to 


be some confusion in the seating, for we had no sooner been 
been shown to our places than other claimants for our seats 
turned up, and on our being asked to show our stubs it was 
found that ours and those of the newcomers called for the 
same seats. As the less aggressive of the disputants, we 
relinquished our seats at the suggestion of the usher and were 
led to an unreserved section of the gallery, even closer to the 

I could see that similar disturbances were taking place in 
every section of the theater. Some people were being pulled 
bodily out of their seats. The clamor of the opposing forces 
intermittently filled the air or was lost in the even louder 
shouts of the candy-, fruit-, and beer-vendors, who did not 
hesitate to climb over people in efforts to dispose of their 
wares. The noise was at its height when it was suddenly 
pierced by the sound of music issuing from the direction of the 
stage. I stood up in my seat and, looking down into the abyss 
beneath me, saw as if through the wrong end of a telescope 
a group of little figures huddled below the stage, playing 
instruments of various sorts under the direction of a man 
facing them. It was my first encounter with orchestral music, 
my first acquaintance with the "Overture." I was to hear this 
overture innumerable times during my theatergoing days, for 
the pit orchestras were loath to exert themselves unduly, and 
their repertoire was, in consequence, a limited one. The 
Overture to Zampa or Light Cavalry, I was to discover, 
served to ring up the curtain in all theaters and on all plays. 
It was Zampa that now struggled to rise above the general din, 
and at last succeeded in making itself heard. At its conclusion 
there was deafening applause, in which I enthusiastically 
joined, for what I heard was lovely indeed. The conductor 
bowed to us innumerable times, quite oblivious of the noise of 
stamping feet which now began to be heard from every part 
of the house. This expression of impatience on the part of the 
audience had its effect. The lights suddenly went out, the 

The Theater 9,7 

curtain alone remaining illuminated by some curious agency. 
Cries of "Sh ! Shut up!" and "Sit down!" were exchanged on 
all sides. The vendors of fruits and liquids reluctantly re- 
treated toward the rear and the house gradually subsided into 
comparative silence. The play was about to begin, and I was 
overcome with emotion. The leader of the orchestra rapped 
for a still greater silence. He signaled his men to begin. A 
brassy fanfare rose plangent on the hushed air, and with it the 
curtain ascended. But when it was halfway up, it stopped and, 
to my distress, would go no farther. But in a moment I had 
forgotten the curtain and was lost in the wonders its partial 
ascent revealed. 

Semidarkness lay like a pall on a structure whose like I had 
never before seen. Dim personages in capes brandished swords 
and spoke oratoricaily in words I could not quite understand. 
Yet I felt certain that momentous events were about to take 
place, and I braced myself for the shock of a revelation that 
could not long be withheld. And then the event that I both 
dreaded and longed to see suddenly took shape as a faint, 
sickly yellow light pierced the surrounding gloom and dis- 
closed an eerie figure clad in diaphanous armor. I knew only 
too well that I was looking at a ghost strangely attired, but 
beyond a certainty a ghost. "Gamlet," it said distinctly, in 
Yiddish, "I am your father's ghost." And with Hamlet I 
listened, with mounting horror, to the piteous tale of fratri- 
cide. But how incredibly brave of Hamlet to confront alone a 
ghost, no matter how closely related, bathed in unnatural 
light, at dead of night! I now began to surmise the intention 
of the plot, and could hardly wait for the scene that would put 
everything to rights. But the author seemed most reluctant to 
bring to a head the conflict he had set in motion at the be- 
ginning of the play. I was mystified and annoyed by solilo- 
quies that brought matters no nearer to a solution. What was 
wrong with Hamlet? Why did he put off, scene after scene, 
the execution of the revenge he had at the outset resolved to 


take? Why was he so cruel to Miss Kallch, his sweetheart, 
whose lovely air of innocent bewilderment broke my heart, 
and why, after a show of explosive anger, was he so lenient 
with his mother? I should certainly, under similar provocation, 
have behaved differently. 

A change of scene now disclosed a cemetery and two men 
digging a grave. I had never before seen a cemetery or a grave, 
but I knew what they were, and they were as horrifying to 
behold as a ghost. And now, at last, Hamlet assumed again 
the boldness he had shown at his first encounter with the 
ghost. He fondled and apostrophized a horrible skull. And 
when he heard the shocking news shocking to me, too that 
the grave was being dug for the corpse of Miss Kalich, he 
leaped into the pit with no signs of fear at all. From that point 
on, the author, abandoning his former delaying tactics, moved 
swiftly to the denouement, and in the final scene of revenge 
and universal carnage he more than atoned for the inexplicable 
hesitations that had marred the greater portion of the play. 

That night I could hardly sleep, for when I shut my eyes, 
the ghost stood before me and beckoned me to follow him; 
and to rid myself of his presence I quickly opened my eyes on 
the reassuring, dim outlines of the kitchen where I slept. In 
the daytime I could dwell on the ghost without fear, but on 
coming home from play at night I would run up the three 
flights of stairs with a beating heart and burst into the house 
like one pursued by a fiend, as indeed I was. A tiny gas-jet 
burned on the wall of each landing, and the faint yellow light 
it feebly spread was the same that had enveloped the ghost of 
Hamlet's father! 

I do not recall seeing any other play by Shakespeare in my 
play going childhood on the East Side. But adaptations of some 
of the more celebrated tragedies were frequently given, and 
enjoyed great popularity. In their new guise the plays dealt 
with contemporary Jewish life in Russia or America. No one 
suspected their source, for the authors gave no hint of their 

The Theater 99 

indebtedness. The exception was Der Yiddisher Koenig Lear 
(The Jewish King Lear), one of Mr. Adler's great vehicles. 
While carefully omitting the name of the creator of the non- 
Jewish King Lear, the author of The Jewish King Lear hinted, 
if only to the cognoscenti, at his obligation to his fellow play- 
wright. Der Yeshiva Bocher (The Talmudic Student), another 
favorite with East Side playgoers, contained no reference of 
any kind to Shakespeare, yet it seemed to me very like Hamlet. 
For the Talmudic student, on coming home from his religious 
studies afar, found that his beloved father had died, and that 
his mother was now married to his late father's brother. The 
story pursued its Shakespearean course, greatly to my 
astonishment. And when the play was over, I was obliged to 
concede that irresolution and inaction were more consistent 
with the character of the gentle, retiring student of the 
Talmud than with that of the Prince of Denmark. Even so, 
Der Yeshiva Bocher was a plain case of plagiarism, and I 
wondered whether the author was troubled about his decep- 

Perhaps I enjoyed Der Yiddisher Koenig Lear more than I 
did Der Yeshiva Bocher because of its author's implied ac- 
knowledgment of his source; and never having seen the 
English King Lear, I had nothing to compare it with. This gave 
the advantage to the Yiddish version. The Jewish King Lear 
was, strangely enough, no king at all, but a wealthy old man 
who foolishly (to the disgust of his body-servant, a joking 
individual who, nevertheless, was devoted to his master) 
parceled out all his worldly goods among his three daughters 
and subsequently met the same fate as the legendary Briton. 

I can remember one powerful scene that brought down the 
curtain and the house. The old man, now quite disillusioned, 
had suffered every indignity that the wicked ingenuity of his 
two elder daughters and their husbands could contrive. They 
had even deprived him of his facetious but devoted retainer 
Shamai, who was confined to the kitchen and given degrading 


chores. The climax of the play was now due. I cannot recall 

the nature of the final indignity. Could the patriarch have 
pleaded for a drink of water and been denied? Whatever it 
was, the old man suddenly drew himself up to his full height 
and, in a voice of thunder, commanded the housekeeper to 
deliver up the keys. This the astonished steward reluctantly 
did. And now the old man turned his fury on his daughters and 
sons-in-law and a large number of guests who came into the 

"Out of my house!" he roared. "Out! Out!" Everyone 
fled in astonishment and dismay. He then called for his old 
retainer, who, dirty and in rags, came running toward him, 
weeping for joy. "Sharnai," the old man cried, and he, too, 
wept as he spoke, "good, faithful Shamai, you will serve 
me again as of old. Yes, Shamai, I was a fool. I should have 
heeded your advice, but I didn't. I trusted in the goodness of 
my elder daughters, but I was blind to the goodness of Gol- 
dele, my youngest. But I have now returned to my senses. I 
have taken everything back. Yes, Shamai, we shall live again 
like men. We shall be happy again, Shamai." And the old man 
put his arms around Shamai and they clung to each other and 
wept loudly and hysterically as the curtain descended. The 
audience, too, abandoned all restraint, and people all over the 
house cried without shame. 

In the last act the Yiddisher Koenig Lear was united with 
the gentle Goldele, impersonated by my adored Miss Kalich. 
I had now seen Miss Kalich in a number of roles, all of which 
exploited her charm, her innocence, and her unearthly beauty. 
I thought wildly of becoming an actor so that I might always 
be near her and perhaps in time marry her. 

Aside from Miss Kalich, the actors I liked best were Mrs. 
K. Lipzin, David Kessler, and Jacob P. Adler. Both Kessler 
and Adler had the grand manner. They played at will on 
people's heartstrings, and audiences wept audibly in their big 
moments. Perhaps Kessler was more protean than Adler. 

The Theater 101 

Like Adler, he could rise to a great climax, but he was also 
effective in quieter moments. Yet Adler 's climaxes exceeded 
Kessler's in power and virtuosity. His gradual crescendo of 
invective and passion in the big scene from Der Yiddisher 
Koenig Lear was a shattering experience for an audience. 
Kessler, it is true, rose to great heights in the excommunica- 
tion scene in Uriel Acosta, when he defied his rabbinical perse- 
cutors with passionate scorn. But he lacked the unabashed 
grandeur that Adler could summon in heroic roles. 

Then, too, Adler was highly effective in seriocomic roles, 
in those comedy dramas which portrayed the difficulties of 
emigrants from the Old World in becoming adjusted to the 
American scene. These plays, known to us as lebensbilder 
(portraits from life), offered an equal proportion of laughter 
and tears, and were perhaps the most popular type of drama 
on the East Side. And, indeed, they were true to life in the 
sense that many such adjustments to a new environment were 
set in motion with the arrival of every steamer from Europe. 
In these plays the pious older people shrank from the un- 
orthodox, materialistic, feverish, competitive life in the New 
World and insisted on clinging to the religious practices and 
the moral code of the world they had left. The young people, 
on the other hand, succumbed easily to the blandishments of 
their new environment. The inevitable conflict between old 
and new, age and youth, orthodoxy and heterodoxy and even, 
perhaps, theism, unfolding on the stage, had for the audience 
the excitement of recognition, as did also the familiar realistic 
touches of incident and character the authors astutely added. 

"The baby is crying," Mr. Adler, playing the husband, 
remarked to Mrs. Adler, playing the wife in a scene from a 
kbensbild whose name I've forgotten. "Well," Mrs. Adler, 
busy with recognizable household chores, replied, with a 
show of scorn for male ineptitude familiar to every husband 
in the audience, "he probably wants topee! Pick him up." The 
author had captured a bit of naturalism familiar to everyone. 


And Mrs. Adler's tart admonition to her husband, who now 
held the baby awkwardly in his arms "Run, or it will be 
too late"" set the entire house rocking with laughter and 
people commenting: "How true!" or "A real lebensbild, a 
slice of life!" 

This play dealt with the familiar theme, with Mr. and Mrs. 
Adler attempting to hold the balance between Jewish ortho- 
doxy, in the person of a pious old grandfather, and rebellion 
and Americanization, as represented by their teen-age son and 
daughter. In scene after scene the young people scoffed at 
religion, at parental and grandparental authority, and at old- 
fashioned decorum, proclaiming the advantages of noncon- 
formity and insisting on the individual's unobstructed pursuit 
of happiness as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independ- 
ence. A favorite device of the playwrights of the period was 
the frequent repetition of a phrase until it became identified 
with the personage whose line it had become. Such phrases 
were especially designed to be remembered by audiences, 
who would murmur them to themselves after the play, 
much as patrons of musical shows, on leaving the theater, 
hum snatches of tunes they have been hearing. So the young 
daughter would always wind up her defiance of the Old 
World and her defense of the New with the memorable 
words: "This is the United States of America, thafs all"'' Her 
brother, sporting a wing collar, a fancy vest, and a straw hat 
with a string attached, interspersed American expressions 
in his speech, which were familiar even to the latest arrivals in 
New York harbor. "Don'tcha know" concluded every 
sentence. And "Go chase yourself," "Business is business," 
and "Time is money" were given out with delightful fre- 
quency. Of course, we knew that the young people would get 
into trouble, the girl romantically, the youth through his 
association with godless, thoroughly Americanized "bums 
and loafers," as his grandfather called them. The climax 
arrived at the moment of their contrition, and here the author 

The Theater 103 

revealed his knowledge of the psychology of the human heart. 
For in that moment of sincerity the young blade eschewed all 
his glib American expressions and spoke exclusively in 
"Mamma Loschen" (his native tongue, Yiddish). And his sis- 
ter, weeping and calling for understanding and help from the 
relations she had so often mocked and derided, now made no 
reference to the United States of America or to the unhindered 
Pursuit of Happiness guaranteed by the Declaration of 

Although Miss Kalich reigned supreme in my heart, I was 
able to recognize genius and even merit in her rivals. Mrs. K. 
Lipzin, appearing without fanfare one day in a tragic work 
called Die Schechitte (The Butchery}, quite overwhelmed me 
with a display of emotional tension and an outburst of passion 
such as I had never before witnessed. Mrs. Lipzin was 
neither so young nor so lovely as Miss Kalich, but her sharp 
personality easily surmounted these handicaps. The play 
seemed especially designed to exploit her peculiar powers of 
both understatement and savage fury. In the first act her 
father bade her become affianced to an aging, cruel, and 
insensitive shochet (rabbinical butcher). Mrs. Lipzin moved 
across the stage as in a trance. She spoke only sparingly, but 
every word she uttered was heavy with portent. "Will you 
have a glass of tea?" she said in a low voice to one of the 
characters. It was obvious that she was not thinking of tea at 
all at the moment, but of something vastly more significant. 
She seemed a quiet and obedient daughter. She voiced no 
objections to her elderly suitor, but her self-possession, she 
made us feel, was only a triumph of art, for she could not 
possibly love the shochet. Thus far the act had been quietly 
expository. It was time for the curtain to fall, but nothing of a 
dramatic nature had occurred. Mrs. K. Lipzin stood facing a 
cupboard, her back to us, a plate in her hand. She was about to 
set the table for supper. In a room off-stage her father and the 
shochet were completing the business details of the match. 


That done, the pair came on stage, unseen by Mrs. Lipzin. 
"Mazeltov! (Congratulations!)" the father called out. At the 
word, Mrs. Lipzin, still with her back to us, stiffened, the 

plate dropped from her hand and crashed to the floor, and she 
emitted a single, bloodcurdling shriek, then remained silent 
and frozen as the curtain fell and rose a dozen times. We 
all wildly acclaimed a great new star and a new and powerful 
dramatist, whoever he was. 

The second act found Mrs. Lipzin married to the shochet, 
and once again she underplayed at first, reserving her strength 
for what the second curtain might hold in store for her. Her 
restraint would have us believe that she had adjusted herself 
to a loveless marriage to a lecherous despot. It was made 
clear that her husband took a sadistic rather than a professional 
interest in ritual butchery. At one point he sharpened a long, 
gleaming butcher's knife with an expression of savage antici- 
pation. He then left the stage on some pretext, but we knew it 
was to leave Mrs. Lipzin alone on the stage for her big 
moment. It was not long in coming. Mrs. Lipzin, artfully 
simulating unconcern, took up the knife and ran a finger along 
the edge to test its sharpness. Then, of a sudden, her body 
became rigid. The knife dropped from her hands and she let 
out an even more terrifying shriek than at the end of the first 
act. And again she stood paralyzed, staring into vacancy, 
while the audience cheered. 

The third-act curtain, with Mrs. Lipzin again alone on the 
stage, was even more powerful, though I do not remember 
what exactly motivated that shriek. But the fourth-act curtain 
is indelibly printed on my memory. During a great part of the 
act the shochet had been unusually irascible, showing his 
displeasure with cruel and taunting remarks to his wife. At 
length, it having grown late, he retired for the night, slamming 
the door after him. Mrs. Lipzin, again left alone, opened her 
husband's case of knives, extracted the longest she could find, 
ran her finger up and down its edge, and walked rigidly into 

The Theater 105 

the bedchamber. There ensued a breathless silence. Mrs. 
Lipzin emerged from the bedchamber, the knife now blood- 
stained still in her hand. She walked calmly to the center 
of the stage and stood there, looking into space. Then she 
screamed. Of the four screams of that matinee, it was the 
most harrowing. Yet the real climax was to follow. Mrs. 
Lipzin now pointed the dripping blade toward heaven. "Die 
schechitte! Die schechitte !" she cried hoarsely, and broke into 
maniacal laughter. The curtain came down. Never had the 
Jewish theater witnessed such a triumph. 

Playgoing had its lighter side in the musical comedies that 
alternated with the tragedies and comedy dramas of the 
lebensbild type. It must not be supposed, however, that the 
musicals were all sunshine and laughter. They, too, were 
founded on the universal theme of the Yiddish stage, the 
Russian Jewish immigrant and his difficulties in America. 
And while there was plenty of music and dancing and a 
humor unblushingly extravagant, pathos was always in the 
offing, and a person might have as good a cry at a comedy 
with music as at an out-and-out tragedy. 

The musicals generally opened with a scene laid in Russia. 
A religious festival was being celebrated in ritual song and 
dance by devout persons with long earlocks and dressed in 
fur-trimmed caps and long satin robes. In due course, the 
hosts of the party, an aged rabbi and his wife, were prevailed 
on to dance a pas de deux, which they executed with a hearty 
agility that belied their years. At one point the dance took a 
romantic turn, with the rabbi offering to embrace his wife, 
who provokingly eluded his grasp, feigning distaste and 
anger. The rabbi, thus repulsed, danced dejectedly alone for a 
while. Whereupon the rabbi's wife relented and coquettishly 
threw her bandanna handkerchief at him as a sign of renewed 
favor. Nothing pleased audiences at musical plays more than 
the love-making of old people. 

By the second act, the entire cast had been transported to 


New York, their garments, but not their characters, changed. 
Now they recalled nostalgically, in song and dance, the 
delights of the simple, pious life they had left behind them. 
Yet the new surroundings failed to dampen the rabbi's 
amorousness or his wife's flirtatiousness. Younger romance 
was now provided by the attraction for each other of a brash, 
thoroughly Americanized young woman and a timid young 
student of the Talmud, freshly arrived and still clinging to 
his earlocks and gabardine. As for comedy, one laughed 
incessantly at the attempts of the older characters to learn 
English and their ludicrous inability to cope with New World 
marvels like illuminating gas, which they tried to shut off by 
blowing at it. 

Mr. and Mrs. Thomashefsky were the most noted expo- 
nents of these musical plays. Their fame as singing comedians 
was comparable to the renown enjoyed by the handful of 
straight dramatic stars. Mr. Thomashefsky had, in fact, 
become the romantic idol of the East Side. Young men strove 
to look like him by growing their hair long and combing it 
into a pompadour. I thought he was a bit too plump for a 
romantic idol, but I had to admit that his voice was "made of 
silk," as the papers said. About Mrs. Thomashefsky I had no 
reservations whatsoever, though she too was plump. She was 
particularly enchanting in a musical play in which she 
disguised herself as a young bootblack. Barefoot and in 
tatters, a shoeshine box slung over her shoulder, she slouched 
around the stage with charming insolence, calling out in 
English, "Shine! Shine! A nickel a shine!" It did not take 
long for Mr. Thomashefsky, as a rich and pampered young 
man about town, to suspect her true sex. At their first meeting, 
as she shined his shoes, they sang a duet in which she con- 
fessed her admiration for him, and he wished, with all the 
pathos of his silken voice, that she were a girl. Copies of this 
song, with oval pictures of the celebrated pair on the cover, 

The Theater 107 

were oo display in the window of Katz's music store on East 
Broadway, a few doors from where I lived. 

My appetite for the theater was insatiable, and I stopped at 
nothing, even theft, to obtain the coveted passes. Several 
times I extracted my sister's pass from her pocketbook when 
she was out of the room, and by the time the loss was dis- 
covered I was well on my way to Grand Street or the Bowery. 
I had no preferences and reveled in every variety of play. I 
even yearned to attend a performance at Miner's Theater, an 
English-speaking playhouse on the Bowery, near the Windsor 
and the Thalia. The posters at Miner's advertised an enter- 
tainment called Burlesque, and featured plump ladies in 
disturbing garments, and funny-looking clowns. As no 
Yiddish was spoken at Miner's, its patrons, I assumed, were 
necessarily Christians. At any rate, Miner's had no window 
cards in the shops, and passes were therefore not available. 

At home I indulged in play-acting myself when no one was 
around. By the time I had witnessed three performances of 
Hamlet with Mr. Kessler as the hero and had become familiar 
with the text, I was obliged to revise my original estimate of 
Shakespeare as only an intermittently inspired playwright. I 
had memorized, "Sein, oder nit Sein? dos is die Kashe!" 
("To be, or not to be: that is the question"), which I now 
prized for its music, the sense still eluding me; and, pretending 
that my long underwear approximated Mr. Kessler's tights, 
I would walk thoughtfully up and down the room reciting the 
soliloquy and imitating every gesture and intonation I could 
recall. I even pronounced the Yiddish words grandiloquently 
so that it sounded like German, a practice adopted by the 
great actors and actresses when they appeared in such poetic 
classics as Hamlet, Medea, and The Robbers of Schiller (it was 
long before I found out that The Robbers of Schiller was not 
merely the title of the play, but included the name of the 
author). Thus, instead of saying "es is ah liegen (it is a lie)," 


Mr. Kessler would orate ostentatiously, in what we assumed 
to be German: "Es 1st eln Leege!" I should also have liked 
to do a bit from Medea, but I never saw that tragedy, my 
courage having failed me when I heard that that passionate 
woman, made desperate by the defection of her peripatetic 
lover, proceeded to tear her (and his) children limb from 
limb in full view of the audience! I did, however, act out 
choice bits of The Two Kooneylemuls in appropriate garb, and 
I borrowed an old dress of my mother's and a bread knife 
to do Mrs. Lipzin's great murder scene in Die Schechitte. 
And slinging a cardboard box over my shoulder, I slouched 
around barefoot, and in a feminine falsetto cried: "Shine! 
Shine! A nickel a shine!" 


l^Euterpe on Henry Street 


N MY way to and from Public School No. 2, I 
often stopped to listen to the sound of a piano issuing from the 
basement of a brownstone house on Henry Street near where 
I lived. I was ten years old. I had no knowledge of music 
beyond the ability to read the treble clef in the simple part- 
songs we were taught at No. 2 and sang on certain occasions 
in assembly. But I was able to identify the music issuing from 
the basement, either as technical exercises or "pieces." One 
or two of my playmates had pianos in their homes, and I got 
to know by sight and sound two books of finger exercises 
called, respectively, "Beyer" and "Hanon." One could begin 
the study of the piano only with Beyer's Book. It was when 
one reached a certain page in it, somewhere I think near the 
halfway mark, that Hanon' s became mandatory as an adjunct 
to it. 


The "pieces" I heard were, too, for the most part familiar 
to me. I knew by name about a half-dozen, the sounds of which 
reached me as I played in the streets in spring and summer. 
They were for me not only marvels of melodic grace but, 
more important, musical embodiments of familiar ideas and 
images. There was, for example, Lilly, one of my favorites. 
Did the composer have in mind a girl or a flower? At first I 
inclined toward the flower. But when I got to know a girl of 
that name, I was certain that he had in mind a Lilly as fragile 
and tender as the one I knew. Actually, the "piece" could 
easily be a celebration of either, or to go a step farther, as I 
, often did in those days, of all girls and all flowers. I felt that 
music of the caliber of Lilly and A Mother's Prayer had a 
special dimension that placed it above all other forms of art. 
It was a dimension I found impossible to define but I was 
conscious of its presence each time I heard A Mother's 
Prayer. In this extraordinary composition the composer had 
undertaken to reveal, by the use of a simple melody and its 
transformation first in arpeggios, then in octaves, and finally 
in repeated octaves, a mother's heart with all its hopes and 
fears. It offered unlimited scope to the imagination of the 
listener. After all, no two mothers were alike, even though 
their hopes and fears were fundamentally the same. Certainly 
my mother was quite different from the mothers of the boys 
and girls I knew. The wonder for me was that the composer 
of A Mother's Prayer had caught, without having ever met her* 
the very special quality of my mother's hopes and fears. 

The Burning of Rome, another favorite, was of a different 
order. Less emotionally disturbing than A Mother's Prayer, it 
was a musical piece of realism which never failed to grip one. 
The title page, with its picture in color of the ancient city 
enveloped in lurid flames and the toga-clad and laurel- 
crowned obese figure of Nero gleefully plucking a harp as he 
stood on an apparently safe superstructure in the background, 
offered an appropriate foretaste of the musical interpretation 

Euterpe on Henry Street 1 1 1 

of that sadistic concert. The composer, quite properly reluc- 
tant to trust the historical knowledge of the player and his 
audience, had scattered at various places in the composition 
verbal hints of what the music was about. They were meant to 
provide, in addition to historical information, suggestions to 
the executant for a realistic interpretation of the scene, and for 
this the printed words were ideal. For myself, I felt that the 
full impact of The Burning of Rome could only be experienced 
by standing behind the performer and reading these comments 
over his shoulder. I can see them vividly before me, as I did 
half a century ago. "Rome lies deep in slumber. ... A 
sound of chariot wheels is heard in the distance. . . . What 
is that faint gleam in the distance? . . . The sky is now 
alight. . . . Fire? Fire!! . . . The flames sweep the Eternal 
City. . . . Rome, roused from its slumber, flees! . . . But 
who is that strange figure on the balcony? ... It is the 
Emperor. . . . The tyrant Nero! . . ." 

There were other tone poems of equal power, fully anno- 
tated and realistically illustrated. I knew Ben HUT'S Chariot 
Race long before I heard about the book. Ben Hur, a handsome 
Roman with a ribbon around his brow, leaning forward in his 
two-wheeled chariot and urging his horses on to victory! 
There was The Chicago Fire, minutely documented from Mrs. 
Leary and her cow to the destruction that ensued; the Sinking 
of the Battleship Maine, and some other violently descriptive 
"pieces" that I can no longer recall. In time I was to become 
aware of the music of Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt; 
for the lower East Side of my era was a cultural center full of 
earnest students of all the arts as well as incipient gangsters. 
But in my tenth year I was drawn exclusively to programmatic 
music of the kind I have tried to describe. 

If I spent a good deal of my spare time in the vicinity of the 
piano teacher's basement on Henry Street, playing hopscotch 
so as not to arouse the curiosity of my playmates and the 
people who always sat on stoops, I did not neglect East 


Broadway, my own street, the long, wide artery that sprang 
out of Grand Street close to the East River and ended in the 
mysterious purlieus of Chatham Square. Practically all of 
East Broadway housed the elite of the lower East Side. 
Brownstone houses, the desideratum of the poor, were the 
rule, not the exception as in all other streets. All the doctors 
had their offices on the stoop floor of the brownstones and 
lived with their families in luxury and style on the floor above. 
But one small segment of the Great Avenue, the block between 
Jefferson and Rutgers streets, was given over to business 
enterprises and a few tenements, in one of which I lived. 
Among the more important mercantile establishments was 
Spector's piano store. Next to listening to the sound of a 
piano, I loved to look at one, and through the large plate-glass 
window of Spector's store I could examine at pretty close 
range a whole series of upright pianos, beginning with the 
large one in the window and ending with a shadowy one at 
the back of the store, looking diminutive in perspective. The 
large one seemed so aglow in its polish, so spotless, that one 
could only with difficulty relate its condition to any human 
agency. A cardboard sign resting on an easel close to it stated 
that the instrument was made of solid mahogany, obviously the 
most desirable of all woods, as I already knew from looking 
in the windows of furniture stores. Mahogany itself was 
estimable. But solid mahogany implied a combination of 
density and purity, an ideal, impenetrable outer casing for a 
sensitive musical mechanism. The sign "guaranteed" the 
presence of solid mahogany and enumerated other desirable 
features. It mentioned "overtones" and claimed a greater 
number of them for Spector's pianos than could be detected in 
the instruments of any and all rival makes. I did not, of course, 
then know what overtones were, but the name did suggest 
something hauntingly supplementary. At any rate, the value 
of both features seemed incontestable, and I was determined to 
consider no other instruments but those of Mr. Spector, 

Euterpe on Henry Street 113 

should the time ever arrive when I would be in a position to 
own one. Mr. Spector dangled before would-be purchasers a 
vista of easy payments after a token down-payment (the size 
of which he deemed infinitesimal) . But even these wonder- 
fully advantageous terms were, at the moment, beyond us, 
because we were already involved in a similar transaction on a 
smaller scale. 

JVIy mother's resourcefulness in moments of economic 
crisis appeared unlimited. Some situations, like the purchase 
of clothes, seemed to demand the brashest of tactics. Others, 
like the ever-recurring crisis of the gas meter when there 
wasn't a quarter in the house, called for quiet diplomacy. 
Of an evening one of my sisters might be entertaining a 
gentleman who would, perhaps soon, we hoped, reveal him- 
self as a suitor, when suddenly the gas would begin to flicker 
and go out. At such moments my mother would strike a 
match, reach for her purse, open it with her free hand, peer in 
it closely, and announce laughingly that she could find nothing 
but bills. The gentleman, hastily fumbling in his pocket, 
would produce a quarter, and the light would come on as 
quickly as it had disappeared. 

My mother's involvement with the credit system had to do 
with a flowered silk tablecloth, negotiations for which she had 
just concluded with an itinerant merchant. The terms were 
not unreasonable ten weekly payments of twenty-five cents, 
with nothing down. But, coming on top of previous purchases, 
payments for which had not yet been completed, and con- 
sidering the insatiable appetite of the gas meter, the rent, 
food, and other necessities, the latest purchase added a heavy 
weight to our already overburdened economy. There was also 
the emotional strain involved in keeping the transaction a 
secret from my father, who professed to abhor the credit 
system. My mother was very adroit at explaining to him the 
sudden presence of things around the house. I forgot how she 
accounted for the new tablecloth. My own role in the decep- 


tion was that of an intercepter. On the day of the week on 
which an installment fell due, I would be stationed on the 
street to watch for the approach of the collector. When he 
appeared, I would give him the quarter or plead for a post- 
ponement. I was on no account to let him enter the house. 

No, this was certainly no time even to dream about owning 
one of Spector's shining pianos. As I turned away from the 
plate-glass window, I wondered if there ever would be a time. 
Money was not the only barrier. There was also niy father, 
who regarded all secular music as noise and all instrumentalists 
as disturbers of the peace. If I were ever to learn to play 
the piano, it would have to be away from home and managed 
as secretly as my mother's installment buying. 

Katz's music store, next in importance for me to Spector's 
piano store, was a smaller shop, but equally dream-provoking. 
Its window display featured copies of many of my favorite 
compositions, notably Lilly and A Mother's Prayer; also the 
piano methods of Beyer and Hanon. The store had a reputation 
as a hangout for musical notables, and the composer of A 
Mother's Prayer was a frequent caller. The celebrated baritone 
Beniamino Burgo would also drop in to examine the latest 
publications for his type of voice. Burgo, I learned, had had a 
fascinating and meteoric career. Only a year before, he had 
worked under his own name of Benjamin Ginzburg as a 
sign-painter in the neighborhood. Mr. Katz had heard him 
sing while at work, and had brought him to the attention of a 
famous Italian vocal teacher residing on East Broadway. After 
a year of intensive study with the Maestro, and with his 
name transformed, Beniamino Burgo had made his debut at a 
concert and ball at Pythagoras Hall, a few doors from 
Spector's. His success had been phenomenal, and now there 
was hardly a concert or ball that did not feature him as its 
main attraction. It was rumored that his popularity had gone 
to his head, and that he now avoided the company of his 
former friends and (in winter) affected a coat with a fur 

Euterpe on Henry Street 1 1 5 

collar, a "soft" hat with a large brim, and a nickel-topped 

All the really important musical events took place in Py- 
thagoras Hall, a vast room that also housed large-scale wed- 
dings and the better-class bar mitzvahs. The concerts were 
invariably followed by balls, and the two were considered as 
entities. A concert was a most generous entertainment that 
usually lasted from eight in the evening to midnight, after 
which the seats were removed in preparation for the ensuing 
ball. The participating artists were numerous, and as I 
watched them one night brush past the ticket-taker at the 
entrance, uttering the single word "Talent" by way of 
identification, the idea came to me that the word could be an 
"Open sesame" to me too. At the very next concert and ball 
I presented myself, armed with a bundle of wrapping paper 
that looked like a roll of music, at the gate of Pythagoras 
Hall, spoke the magic word, and was admitted without 
further inquiry. It was at that concert and ball that I had the 
good fortune to hear Beniamino Burgo sing and instantly 
repeat, by popular demand, the "Toreador Song" from 

If one's taste also ran to literary celebrities, and mine did, 
we could watch them enter or leave Malkin's bookstore, a 
few doors from Pythagoras Hall. The window of this shop 
was cluttered with volumes of the world's best literature 
from the earliest times to the present. One could spell out the 
authors and titles on the backs or fronts of cloth- and paper- 
bound books: Shakespeare, Shelley, Byron, Goethe, Heine, 
Tolstoy, Turgeniev. There were framed portraits of poets, 
painters, musicians, philosophers, and revolutionaries. The 
name of Michael Bakunin identified a portrait of a truly 
terrifying man, wild and disheveled, with blazing eyes. And 
next to him, a picture of the benign and affable Ivan Tur- 
geniev, whose complete works dominated the window. Of all 
the great men on display there, I picked Turgeniev as my 


Ideal of what an author should look like, and I spelled out the 
titles of his books, hoping to find in them a foretaste of their 
contents. There were A Nest of Noblemen (how provocative! 
what sort of nest could that be?), On the Eve (of what?), 
and Fathers and Sons (what were their relations? could the 
story throw any light on my own situation at home?). 

There were Buckle's History of Civilization in England, 
Spencer's First Principles, Darwin's Origin of Species, Helm- 
holtz's On Sound, Zola's Germinal, Shaw's An Unsocial Socialist, 
and A Communist Manifesto. I knew all the titles by heart. I 
also got to know the names of many important literary and 
political figures. Seldom indeed did I see anyone leave Mai- 
kin's with a book, but the sound of heated discussions inside 
could always be heard on the street. I learned to identify the 
fiery voice of Emma Goldman, the celebrated anarchist, and 
the softer voice of the anarchist leader, Johann Most, reputed 
to be Emma's lover. It was common knowledge on East 
Broadway that Miss Goldman, in an uncontrollable fit of 
jealousy, had taken a horsewhip to Mr. Most. However, it 
'may have been the other way around. I was therefore taken 
aback when I saw them one day emerging from Malkin's 
bookstore hand in hand. I should have been used to incon- 
gruities in the relations of the sexes. Among our friends there 
was a married couple who on their visits to us would bitterly 
denounce each other, their enmity sometimes bordering on 
violence. They always left the house declaring their un- 
alterable decision to secure an instant divorce. Yet year after 
year, with startling punctuality, they would announce the 
birth of a child and invite us to celebrate the event with cakes 
and wine. These people were, of course, presumably incapable 
of the rational behavior expected of intellectuals. It was pain- 
ful to have to admit that Miss Goldman and Mr. Most could 
be on occasion as irrational as ordinary people. 

If the emotional instability of this otherwise noble pair 
puzzled me, there were many exceptional residents of the East 

Euterpe on Henry Street nj 

Side who did not deviate from the idealistic code they had 
espoused. Such were the editor of Freiheit and his wife, who 
lived with their two children on the floor above us. Freiheit 
(Freedom) was a revolutionary weekly, forbidden in our house 
and in the houses of all orthodox Jews, but read surreptitiously 
by my two older sisters. The ill repute of Freiheit affected me 
in a personal way, for I was not permitted to associate with 
the editor's children. They seemed nice enough, though some- 
what too clean and orderly, and I would gladly have played 
with them. My position in respect to them and their parents 
was a curious one. On the one side I heard very strange 
rumors about them from my playmates. It was said that the 
editor and his wife if she could, indeed, be called his wife 
had never bothered to marry, not even "in court," the place to 
which the more respectable atheists repaired for a drab civil 
ceremony. The children of this unhallowed union seemed 
quite unconscious of their equivocal status. They appeared to 
be cheerful and carefree at all times, notwithstanding that 
they were forced by their mother (so I heard) to drink three 
spoonfuls daily of a nasty, thick, odorless liquid called "cod- 
liver oil," a kind of castor oil without the smell. On the other 
hand, my sisters, who read Freiheit, maintained, not of course 
in the hearing of my father and mother, that the editor and his 
wife were idealistic to a degree, even going so far as to justify 
their rejection of the marriage ceremony as a heroic implemen- 
tation of a principle, however misguided. 

Mr. Strassmeir was another intellectual whose ideals and 
deportment were, for the most part, in the most harmonious 
relation. Mr. Strassmeir was the young and talented teacher 
of my class at No. 2 . A man of seemingly immeasurable learn- 
ing, he was also an amateur pianist of such proficiency as to 
make his passing into the professional category contingent 
only on his pleasure. It is true that we never heard him play 
anything but The Mosquito Parade at morning assembly. Even 
on the morning when the entire school was summoned by Mr. 


Denscher, the principal, to mourn the death of President 
McKinley, we marched In to the strains of The Mosquito 
Parade. This was one occasion, I ventured to think, that called 
for a march less light and buoyant, the more so as we were 
soon required to sing the somber Nearer, My God, to Thee, the 
late President's favorite hymn. Mr. Strassmeir's political 
opinions were advanced, and he was, I knew, perfectly capable 
of indulging in a bit of sardonic humor at the expense of the 
Republican Party in ushering in so solemn a meeting with 
The Mosquito Parade. But I was myself so moved by the as- 
sassination and even more by our melting rendition of Nearer, 
My God, to Thee that I preferred to believe that Mr. Strass- 
meir had not heard about the tragedy until Mr. Denscher' s 
solemn announcement that morning. 

The truth was that my admiration for Mr. Strassmeir was 
unbounded, and he could do no wrong. I compared him, suc- 
cessfully, with such celebrated models of perfection as Gala- 
had and Sir Philip Sidney, though he sometimes assumed a 
hostile attitude to his class or a few individuals in it, which, in 
the light of the legends about them, would have been foreign 
to the natures of the English paragons. He resembled them 
physically, I thought. He was strikingly tall and slim, with 
blue eyes and curly hair, his cheeks slightly flushed, as if re- 
flecting an inner fire. His manner alternated between pas- 
sionate seriousness and flippancy tinged with sarcasm. He 
would interrupt our lessons to speak to us on the disgrace of 
poverty and on the callousness of government and the rich. 
He read to us, one memorable day, Thomas Hood's The Song 
of the Shirt, and the entire class was shaken. His skillfully 
modulated voice supplied a dramatic orchestration to the 
poem. As he intoned sadly the opening: "With fingers weary 
and worn," we could almost see before us Hood's tragic 
seamstress in her dark, airless, shabby attic, forever doomed 
to ply her needle for the benefit of the unfeeling rich. And 
when, with an inflection that conjured up the hopeless mo- 

Euterpe on Henry Street 1 1 9 

notony of her existence, he spoke the ever-recurring refrain: 
"Stitch! stitch! stitch!" some of us could bear the strain no 
longer and sobbed aloud. 

My ambition was to become in all respects a man like Mr. 
Strassmeir, and I forgave him his lapses from the ideal of 
humanism and chivalry implicit in his noble character and im- 
mense attainments, even when I myself was their victim. Such 
a lapse was painfully apparent to me once when in response to 
my usual respectful indeed, timidly affectionate "Good 
morning, Mr. Strassmeir," he asked, rather sharply, whether I 
had washed my face that morning. Had we been alone, I 
would have gladly accepted the irrelevance of his query (for I 
had washed my face that morning) as an excess of his habitual 
early-morning exuberance. But in the presence of the whole 
class it could not be construed as anything but a calculated 

Sometime later the class had just finished the study of 
Tennyson's Enoch Arden and Mr. Strassmeir was recapitulat- 
ing the story and brilliantly pointing out the poet's artistry in 
the handling of the pitiful drama. As an example of poetic 
economy he quoted the ending: "the little port had seldom 
seen a costlier funeral," and asked if any of us could tell him 
'why the little port had seldom seen a costlier funeral. No one 
raised a hand. Mr. Strassmeir waited, tapping the palm of his 
left hand with a ruler. Suddenly he pointed the ruler straight 
at me. "Don't you know why?" he demanded in a sneering 
falsetto. "You always know everything!" It was difficult to 
reconcile such instances of fortuitous cruelty with his passion- 
ate devotion to Socialism and the Brotherhood of Man, and 
I had many dark hours of doubt. 

Mr. Strassmeir's passion for music put an official seal on my 
own ambition in that direction. I could not, however, honestly 
claim for him that he was "the only begetter" of my interest 
in music. Even before I knew the privilege of an association 
(however one-sided) with him, I loved music for itself and 


looked forward to the weekly appearances of Miss Tinker, 
visiting music teacher at No. 2. Miss Tinker was a small, 
prim, quite unprepossessing woman with graying hair parted 
In the middle and tied in a knot at the back. She generated a 
melancholy that the mournful sound of the pitch-pipe on 
which she always sounded a preliminary C, and her own hol- 
low falsetto as she repeated it, made more depressing. But 
she was a capable teacher and an expert in the intricacies of 
part-singing. Her repertoire of part-songs was extensive. 
Among other things, she taught us what I considered a 
poignant arrangement in two-part harmony of "The Lord Is 
My Shepherd." I was among the altos, and when we sang "I 
sha-ha-ha-hal nah-hot want" in florid counterpoint under the 
forthright, severe ascending melody of the sopranos, the 
effect, at least to me, was shattering. 

Miss Tinker opened new vistas in music. But it was Mr. 
Strassmeir who, unconsciously, gave direction to my love for 
the art. The piano was to be my instrument because it was his. 
My mastery of it would, I hoped and believed, break down his 
Indifference to me, compel him to recognize me as a true 
disciple and treat me with the courtesy, if not the affection, 
due a co-worker in the realms of art and humanitarianism. A 
definite picture of the great moment when I would stand thus 
revealed to Mr. Strassmeir had begun to take shape in my 
mind: the school would be on the point of marching into as- 
sembly, and Mr. Strassmeir would be about ready to strike 
the opening chords of the march, when he would be seen to 
falter. Mr, Denscher, standing at his lectern near by, prepared 
to read his daily passage from the Bible, would turn to the 
stricken teacher and help him into an adjoining room. He 
would come back a moment later to tell us that Mr. Strassmeir 
had suffered a slight attack of dizziness and to assure us he 
would soon be all right. In the meantime he would call on any 
student or teacher who could play the piano to step forward. 
I would then leave my place in the line and make my way to 

Euterpe on Henry Street 1 2 1 

the piano. I would sit down and swing into The Mosquito 
Parade, and the astonished classes would begin marching. 
Later I would be summoned to Mr. Denscher's private office. 
There I would find Mr. Strassmeir, still pale, but now re- 
covered. Mr. Denscher would say: "I have brought him," 
and would leave us alone, closing the door behind him. The 
ensuing interview eluded all my attempts at exact definition. I 
knew, in a general way, that Mr. Strassmeir would be compli- 
mentary to a degree unusual for him. But I could not, as yet, 
imagine what my replies would be. At some point in the inter- 
view I hoped I would have the courage to ask him if he had 
really meant to humiliate me when he asked if I had washed 
my face. I would, of course, be prepared to forgive him if he 

At any rate, I was determined to learn to play the piano, 
and it was only a question of just when I would find myself 
unable to resist ringing the doorbell of the piano teacher's 
basement on Henry Street. The moment came on my way 
home from school one lovely spring afternoon. It was easier 
than I had expected it to be. I went directly to the house, 
opened the iron wicket, walked down the half-dozen steps, 
and rang the bell as coolly as if I were paying a visit to a play- 
mate. An old woman in a black wig opened the door, led me 
into the parlor, and disappeared. 

After a few minutes a younger-looking woman came in, 
introduced herself as Miss Taffel, the piano teacher, and 
asked me if I came about lessons. While I replied, she struck 
a match and lit one of the gas-jets. The resulting illumination 
chased the darkness into the corners of the room and lit up 
Miss Taffel's face and figure. She looked even younger now, 
and, I thought, handsome. But her manner was frighteningly 
brusque and matter-of-fact for a Custodian of the Art. With- 
out any preliminary amenities she announced her terms, 
which were ten cents the lesson, one or two lessons per week 
(she advised two at the beginning) and one hour of practice on 


her piano daily except on the Sabbath. There was no charge 
for the practice hour, which was to be from four to five in the 
afternoon. The fee was to be paid before each lesson or, I was 
told, there would be no lesson. I was to come the following day 
for my first lesson, bearing ten cents and Beyer's Book. I 
agreed to the conditions, but said that I would have to content 
myself with one lesson per week for the present. Miss Taffel 
then terminated the interview by turning off the gas-jet and 
opening the door leading into the pitch-black hall. 

When I regained the street, the seriousness of my new situ- 
ation struck me for the first time. The income of our family, 
even by our own austere standards, was quite meager. My 
father earned four or five dollars a week teaching Hebrew to a 
few boys in the neighborhood whose propensities for mischief 
made them ineligible at the numerous cheders or Hebrew 
schools. Two of my sisters worked at home, making cig- 
arettes. They were paid by the piece, and their combined 
weekly earnings fluctuated, like my father's, between four 
and five dollars. The earnings of the other children were 
intermittent and quite negligible. The rent for our three-room 
"railroad" tenement came to twelve dollars a month. Cloth- 
ing, food, gas, my father's dues at his synagogue, doctors' fees 
and medicine, and the installments on the never-ending suc- 
cession of "furnishings" which my mother could not resist 
buying, more than accounted for what was left. It need not be 
surprising that a child of ten living, half a century ago, in the 
poorest section of the city should have been so familiar with 
the details of his family's domestic economy. Our small apart- 
ment, housing eight persons, offered few opportunities for 
privacy. My parents occupied the only bed in the house, in the 
small windowless and doorless room between the kitchen and 
the front room. My sisters slept on improvised beds on the 
floor of the latter, I on four chairs set up each night in the 
kitchen. In the morning the chairs would be pulled from under 
me, one by one, as they were required for breakfast. 

Euterpe on Henry Street 123 

In the yard of our tenement house a number of outhouses 
provided sanitation for the occupants. This arrangement did 
not strike us as in any way unusual. The water closets as 
they were flatteringly called (there was no water anywhere 
around) were always locked, and each family was given a 
key. In the summer, when windows were wide open, the 
children playing on the street would shout for some member 
of their family to throw the key, wrapped In paper, down on 
the pavement. More often the request would be multiple: 
"Mamma, throw down my beanbag, a piece of bread and but- 
ter, and the key to the water closet!" Sometimes a child could 
earn a penny by giving his key to a passer-by in distress. 

Our sleeping arrangements were somewhat altered in the 
summer. Except when it rained, my youngest sister and I 
slept on the fire escape. But, summer and winter, our family 
life was a public spectacle to its members and even, in a 
measure, to our neighbors; for the walls of the tenement were 
cardboard-thin and the voices of the occupants innocently un- 
inhibited. The elaborate measures my mother was forced to 
Improvise to keep my father from learning the precarious 
nature of her domestic economy, as well as other matters she 
deemed it wise to keep from him, were necessitated by this 
quite public family existence. And then success depended 
frankly on the circumstance of my father's absence from home 
during definite hours of the day. Any change in his schedule 
could upset her strategy and might result in a secretly tele- 
graphed summons to the conspirators, who included me, to 
meet in the comparative privacy of the yard or on some street 
corner for a discussion of new tactics to meet the new situa- 

I arrived home after my Interview with Miss Taffel in time 
to call a family council safely. My father would not be home 
for another hour. As I expected, my news created a sensation. 
Approval was general and immediate. And my mother, for 
whom secrecy and intrigue had by now become necessary 


stimulants, began at once to consider how best to keep the 
momentous news from my father. My sisters addressed them- 
selves to the practical aspects of the contract I had entered 
into with Miss Taffel. The cost of the lessons they themselves 
would manage to contribute, but the immediate purchase of 
Beyer's Book, not to speak of the subsequent books and sheet 
music I would require, offered a problem that seemed to defy 
solution. My mother, however, pooh-poohed their doubts, 
and herself undertook to visit Mr. Katz and negotiate for 
Beyer's Book as a starter. 

There was, of course, no time to lose. My mother and I at 
once set out for the music shop. I was quite optimistic about 
the outcome, for I had had many evidences of my mother's 
skill in persuading tradesmen and landlords to accede to what 
always seemed to me outrageous terms. When we reached the 
shop, my optimism left me. My mother went in, and I, feeling 
myself unable to endure a meeting of such momentous conse- 
quence, remained outside. Eventually my mother came out, 
carrying Beyer's Book not the paper edition, but the costly 
crimson cardboard volume. She had had, she told me, no 
trouble at all with Mr. Katz, who grasped the situation at 
once and offered her all the time she desired to pay for the 
book. He also showed an inclination to be as elastic with 
respect to all my future needs, asking only for a small token 
down-payment within the next few days. This, my mother 
assured him, would be forthcoming. He had her word for it. 

Before my father came home that evening, I concealed the 
identity of Beyer's Book with a cover of wrapping paper and 
strapped it in with my schoolbooks. As I left the house the 
next morning, my mother, in giving me my daily allowance of 
a penny, surreptitiously added a dime. And at four o'clock 
that afternoon I was in Miss TaffePs front room. Miss Taffel 
was there to receive me and her fee. This done, she spun the 
revolving seat of the piano stool to a suitable height, placed my 
Beyer's Book on the music rack, skipped the preliminary 

Euterpe on Henry Street 125 

pages addressed to "The Teacher," and opened it to a picture 
of a keyboard with the letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, identifying the 
white keys. As I picked out the corresponding notes on the 
piano, I could not help reflecting for a moment on Miss 
Taffel's utter lack of curiosity about me. She had not asked 
me my name, my address, or what school I attended! 

I learned the treble and bass clefs very quickly, and in no 
time arrived at the little exercises in finger technique disguised 
and made palatable to the beginner by provocative titles like 
"Little Polka," "The Running Brook," and "Little Dog Chas- 
ing His Tail." Miss Taffel never wasted a word. Her lesson 
lasted exactly one hour, not a minute more or less, as I could 
see by a kitchen clock that stood on the piano. Her efficiency 
was beyond question, but her impersonal attitude, toward 
both me and music, seemed increasingly strange in a disciple 
of an art that I considered the most emotional of all. Either 
she was unaware of the poetic flavor of the titles of the little 
pieces she taught me or she deliberately chose to consider 
only the technical problems they illuminated. When I essayed, 
on my own, a bit of poetic realism in the "Little Dog Chasing 
His Tail" by speeding up the tempo toward the end, Miss 
Taffel implied her disapproval by beginning to count four in a 
bar in very strict time, in her sharp, impersonal voice. When, 
during my practice period, alone in the room, I might yield to 
some poetic impulse and indulge in "interpretation," the old 
lady who had answered the doorbell the very first time I rang 
it would put her head through the door and say: "My daughter 
says you shouldn't." 

Miss Taffel was out a good deal of the time giving piano 
lessons to pupils in their homes. She shared the dark basement 
with her mother and an older brother, whose querulous voice 
often reached me from some back room in the house. I 
gathered he did no work of any sort and was content to let the 
entire support of the household devolve on his sister. The two 
were in a perpetual state of war, and their recriminations in 


the back room sometimes grew so loud as to drown out the 
sound of the piano. At the height of these, Miss Taffel would 
command her brother to leave the premises and never return. 
But he scorned the suggestion as having no relation at all to 
the settlement of whatever it was they were quarreling about. 
Miss Taffel was soulless and mercenary, but less so than her 
brother. One winter afternoon, when the room grew so dark 
that I could not see the music before me, strain as I might, she 
came in and lit the gas-jet. I had hardly time to thank her when 
her brother rushed in, gave her a withering look, turned off 
the gas, and ran out. Miss Taffel followed him, and the noise 
of their quarrel seeped into the front room as I struggled in 
the gloom to decipher the new piece I was learning. 

I finished Beyer's Book in what some of Miss TaffePs 
pupils assured me was record time, but there was never a 
word of praise from Miss Taffel herself. I went on to Burg- 
mueller's Book, a collection of twenty-four veritable tone 
poems, one to a page, excepting the last, which required two 
full pages for the complete exposition of its poetic idea. At the 
same time, I was given sheet music, some with haunting titles, 
but all of them embodying technical problems. The Alpine 
Shepherd's Evening Song, by a German composer whose name 
I cannot recall, was a poignantly evocative piece that I never 
grew tired of playing. Nor can I remember the technical prob- 
lem it posed. The picture on the cover showed a mountainous 
landscape resembling that in the picture of Napoleon Crossing 
the Alps over the piano. Its mood, however, was beautifully 
idyllic. The shepherd, having presumably rounded up his 
flock, sat on the ground, playing his rustic pipe while the 
setting sun cast a beautiful sad glow over the landscape. The 
piece itself was built on a lovely melody expressive of the 
gentleness of the shepherd's immemorial occupation, and a 
series of bell-like echo effects evoked the rarefied atmosphere 
of the Alpine countryside in summer. So touching was this 
pastoral music idyl that I seldom got through the piece dry- 

Euterpe on Henry Street 127 

eyed. How different from the somber effect of Napoleon 
Crossing the Alpsl There was, it is true, something heroic 
about this picture, the indomitable will of the general, per- 
haps, as indicated in the stocky figure, muffled up to the neck 
and astride a white horse whose nostrils emitted icy streams 
of air, and urging on with an imperiously extended right hand 
some ragged soldiers desperately lugging pieces of cannon up 
the rocky terrain behind him. I was not aware at that time 
that Napoleon had succeeded in crossing the Alps. In the dim 
light of my practice hour the outcome of the brave expedition 
appeared to me highly uncertain. I would sometimes have 
nightmares in which I would see Napoleon no longer urging 
on his men, but lying dead, his soldiers and cannon, half-hid- 
den by the snow, strewn around him, the only survivor the 
noble steed, his nostrils still emitting streams of icy air. I 
often wondered why the composer of The Alpine Shepherd's 
Evening Song had neglected to portray in music the other, the 
terrifying side of life in the Alps. 

It was now almost a year since I had begun to study the 
piano. Mr. Katz had lived up to my mother's estimate of him, 
cheerfully keeping me supplied with whatever music Miss 
Taffel thought I required. For her part, my mother tried 
valiantly to observe her side of the bargain, but on several oc- 
casions she was obliged to make visits of a propitiatory nature 
to the music store. It was not long before Mr. Katz induced 
me to buy some of his publications, though he was well aware 
that Miss Taffel did not consider any of them pedagogical 
necessities. In time I added The Mosquito Parade to my rapidly 
expanding repertoire, with the possibility always in mind of 
the hoped-for dramatic turn of events at school, which would 
in one moment reveal me to everyone there, but especially to 
Mr. Strassmeir, as a musical prodigy. I devoted most of the 
time of Miss TaffeFs absences to the perfection of the march 
until I felt I would be equal to the occasion, come when it. 


In the meantime, my mother and sisters were clamoring to 
hear me play so as to judge for themselves the extent of the 
progress I claimed to have made. I felt sure of making an im- 
pression on thewi, and it only remained for me to get permis- 
sion to invite my family to Miss Taffel's front room during 
one of my practice hours. Miss Taffel, when I put the idea of 
a little recital to her, didn't seem to care one way or the other, 
stipulating that I was not to light the gas, because her brother 
had the strongest objection to unseasonal illumination. I was 
hoping that Miss Taffel would not be at home at the hour of 
my projected concert, and when my mother and sisters sat 
down on the Wiener chairs in the front room, I played a few 
bars of A Mother's Prayer to find out. The forbidden melody 
brought no reaction from the rear of the house, so I knew for 
certain Miss Taffel was out. This made it possible for me to 
include at least two proscribed pieces in my program. I be- 
gan with The Mosquito Parade and, fearing that Miss Taffel 
might unexpectedly return, followed it quickly with A 
Mother s Prayer. I could see in their faces that my mother and 
sisters were quite unprepared for the facility I exhibited and 
the feeling I put into the music. My rendition of A Mother's 
Prayer had the expected effect, all the more so as it was the 
only familiar music on my program; but I reserved my best 
efforts for The Alpine Shepherd's Evening Song, the echo 
effects of which elicited murmurs of delight from my audience. 
Soon the room grew quite dark and the ominous shadows I 
knew so well began to play on Napoleon Crossing the Alps. 
Remembering Miss TaffePs injunction about the gas, I closed 
the piano lid and ushered my family out of the basement into 
the light of a late spring afternoon. 

On the sidewalk, my mother kissed me extravagantly and 
cried, in full view of boys playing prisoner's base. My sisters 
were more circumspect, though I saw their eyes fill with tears. 
In their enthusiasm they promised to buy me a certain sailor 
suit with white trimmings and a white cord with a whistle at 

Euterpe on Henry Street 129 

the end, which I had long coveted. I knew it would be some 
time before they could find the dollar and a quarter that was 
the asking price for the suit. But in the past year I had dis- 
covered that the most unlikely things could happen. It now 
seemed to me quite possible that I would be wearing the sailor 
suit and blowing the whistle at the end of the cord by the time 
another year came around. 


. Silver., Individualist 


.T WAS nine o'clock on the morning of a new term 
in P.S. No. 2. The class was standing, each boy next to his 
desk, waiting for the new teacher. A monitor had placed us 
in alphabetical order, and my desk was in the first row im- 
mediately in front of the teacher's desk. Presently we heard 
the sound of footsteps in the hall, and a tall, thin man came 
hastily into the room. Without so much as a glance at the 
class, he strode to the blackboard, seized a piece of chalk, and 
quickly wrote in beautiful script: "Mr. Silver" He put down 
the chalk, brushed one palm against the other with the elegance 
of a cymbal-player, and sat down at his desk. He took out a 
paper from a drawer and read out our names. "Raise your 
right hand when your name is called and sit down," he said. 
And as each boy raised his hand and sat down, Mr. Silver 
bestowed on him a sharp, fleeting look. 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 1 3 1 

Mr. Silver's face was long, freckled, and delicately formed. 
His eyes were steely, yet curiously expressive of his mental 
reactions to what they revealed to him. A second after he 
looked at an object his eyes would, as it were, pronounce 
judgment. The roll call over, he leaned forward, put his el- 
bows on the desk, intertwined the four fingers of each hand, 
and with his thumbs began stroking in opposite directions an 
Imaginary mustache on his lip. As he stroked, he turned his 
concentrated gaze on each boy in turn. When he came to me, 
he stared longer and harder and worked his thumbs with 
calculated deliberation. I felt uncomfortable under this 
scrutiny. At the same time I was obliged to repress an impulse 
'to laugh at the industrious workings of his thumbs on his lip. 
At length he spoke, still looking straight at me. "I'll have no 
nonsense here," he said sharply and, I thought, rather ir- 
relevantly, since the class sat silent and serious, its eyes on 
him. "We're here to work and for nothing else. If anyone 
doesn't like it here," and he suddenly jerked his left thumb in 
the direction of the door, "he can go elsewhere!" As he snapped 
out the word "elsewhere," it conjured up a bleak, purposeless, 
sterile, trackless region as unprofitable as the moon. It seemed 
as if he meant to address the class through me, and I tried 
hard to look away and so retreat into the safe anonymity of 
the other boys. But his hypnotic eyes held me fast, and a 
silence ensued during which the thumbs resumed their work 
on his upper lip. I knew I should be unable to bear the sight 
much longer without laughing, and the inevitability of my 
breakdown and the punishment that must ensue filled me with 
terror. As far back as I could remember, I had been fighting a 
propensity to laugh. I would laugh at anything or at nothing at 
all. I would laugh when I felt sober and grave. I laughed at 
deformity and mishap when I would rather have cried. Some- 
times I had to repress a perverse desire to laugh when a funeral 
passed by. Yet I had no impulse to laugh at Italian funerals, in 
which the mourners marched to the sad music of brass bands. 


But now, as if at the command of some "Imp of the Per- 
verse," I laughed straight into the face of the formidable 
teacher who stroked a mustache he didn't have. It was a loud, 
staccato laugh, and it left me frozen with horror. To my sur- 
prise, it came again a second later, ignoring the terror I felt. 
Mr. Silver left his desk, came close to me, and with his fist 
struck me repeatedly in the face. I did not mind the blows. In- 
deed, I was grateful for them, for they released my tears. I 
was beginning to feel a sense of relief, when Mr. Silver seized 
me by the scruff of my neck and hustled me out of the room. 
u You may come back when youVe laughed yourself out!" he 
shouted after me as he closed the door. 

It seemed to me that I had laughed myself out forever. As I 
paced the hall waiting for the passing of a decent interval be- 
fore I re-entered the classroom, I was certain that nothing 
would ever again seem comical or ludicrous to me. But when I 
opened the door halfway and saw Mr. Silver at his desk, his 
thumbs again stroking his lip, I knew I must laugh or die, and 
I shut the door hastily and fled down the hall and into the 
basement, where I took refuge in one of the open toilets that 
stretched in a row the length of the building. My next attempt 
to enter the classroom proved successful. Mr. Silver was on 
his feet talking to the class, one hand in his trouser pocket, the 
other playing with his bunch of keys. I did not want to laugh. 

Having established his authority so sensationally on the 
very first morning of the term, Mr. Silver could presumably 
afford to relax. And soon he disclosed a provocative and even 
engaging personality. When not angered and moved to take 
disciplinary measures, he was breezily efficient and coolly but 
interestingly informative, even on dry subjects like arithmetic. 
His approach to teaching was informal deceptively so we 
were to discover, for at the first sign of camaraderie on the 
part of a boy he would instantly change into a tyrannical 
disciplinarian. He impressed us by doing the unexpected. For 
example, when explaining sums on the blackboard he eschewed 

Mr. Silver , Individualist 133 

the use of the traditional pointer, using instead a key selected 
from a ring of keys he carried in his pocket. This lent an air of 
intimacy to his demonstrations. We could not of course avoid 
speculating about the large number of keys he carried about. 
It was one boy's opinion that Mr. Silver could be another 
Bluebeard who kept a corresponding number of wives under 
lock and key. We had to admit that he was handsome enough 
to marry as many women as he desired. Of one thing we had 
no doubt. His ambition, his competence, and his authoritative- 
ness were bound to carry him to the greatest pedagogical 

Mr. Birnbaum, the principal, might well be jealous of him. 
Mr. Birnbaum was not a man to be trifled with, notwith- 
standing the unctuousness of his reading of a paragraph from 
the Bible in assembly each morning. These paragraphs were 
baffling. They seemed to make no sense in English, and they 
lacked the musical appeal my father endowed them with when 
he intoned them in Hebrew. When they did begin to make 
sense, Mr. Birnbaum would perversely terminate his reading 
and leave the story in mid-air. 

"And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: 
and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. And he lift up 
his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and 
when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, 
and bowed himself toward the ground, and said, 'My Lord, if 
now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray 
thee, from thy servant: let a little water, I pray you, be 
fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the 
tree: and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your 
hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to 
your servant." (Genesis, Chapter xviii.) Mr. Birnbaum spoke 
the final phrase as if he were asking a question, placed the em- 
broidered marker on the page, and piously closed the tooled- 
leather tome, leaving us wondering just whom the Lord ap- 
peared to and what subsequently happened. 


We even preferred Mr. Silver's quick temper to Mr. 
Birnbaum's studied reactions to the problems of a principal. 
Mr. Silver might flare up at a boy, and in his passion hit out 
at him; but he cooled off rapidly. And if the victim bore the 
onslaught stoically and showed no resentment, Mr. Silver re- 
warded him by electing to forget the incident and thence- 
forward treating the boy with the breezy condescension we 
thought so becoming to him. As for his attitude to Mr, 
Birnbaum, it was gratifyingly aloof. Mr. Birnbaum would 
make unexpected visits to classrooms, hoping, it was generally 
assumed, to catch his teachers off guard or, at the very least, 
to make them self-conscious and apologetic. "Please keep 
right on with what you are doing," he would command 
genially on entering a classroom. But we learned that most 
teachers found it quite difficult to carry out this injunction. 
They floundered about, showing plainly their want of self- 
possession. On the other hand, some of them, sensing an op- 
portunity of making a favorable impression, pretended a 
severity that was alien to their natures. This threw the class 
into a confusion that was not lost on the principal. Mr. Silver, 
however, always took Mr. Birnbaum at his word and con- 
tinued what he had been doing without any show of either 
bravado or fear. 

One morning a messenger appeared and told Mr. Silver 
that Mr. Birnbaum desired to see him in his office without 
delay. Mr. Silver said: "Very well," breezily, as if he didn't 
care; but his face flushed and his eyes roamed over the class, 
seeking out the boy who had betrayed him. The class had 
reason to be apprehensive about the interview that would 
take place in Mr. Birnbaum's office. The day before, Mr. 
Silver had lost his temper and had struck a boy, who had 
thereafter sulked all the morning and afternoon. The boy had 
gained a reputation as a cry-baby and a sissy. For this we 
blamed his mother, who accompanied him to school and 
waited for him on the sidewalk when school was let out. We 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 135 

had little doubt that the boy had "snitched" on Mr. Silver 
and that his mother had lodged a complaint with the principal. 
The boy now gave himself away by crying softly. Mr. Silver 
returned as briskly as he had left. The flush on his cheeks 
glowed more brightly and his eyes looked steelier. "Rabino- 
witz!" he called out sharply. "Stand up!" The boy got to his 
feet. Mr. Silver regarded him contemptuously. "Rabino- 
witz," Mr. Silver resumed, "I am asked to apologize to you 
for striking you yesterday. I now do so. Sit down!" Rabino- 
witz took his seat. The tears were pouring down his cheeks. 
We could hardly blame him. It was all his mother's doing. It 
went to show what an evil unbridled parental affection was. 
We were sorry for Rabinowitz, but we gloried in Mr. Sil- 
ver's display of withering scorn. And we were pretty sure 
that in his brief interview with Mr. Birnbaum Mr. Silver 
had given the principal little cause for satisfaction. 

We discovered faint overtones of contempt in Mr. Silver's 
demeanor toward his colleagues. We couldn't tell whether he 
disliked the teachers or the subjects they taught, but we were 
prepared to adopt his opinions and prejudices if we could but 
know them. We did know that he was partial to realistic sub- 
jects, to studies that would be useful in commercial life. But he 
disdained to be specific and left us to guess at his opinions from 
his occasional impromptu remarks on politics and current 
events. These hinted at a philosophy that favored the survival 
of the fittest and leadership by the confident and strong. 
Poverty, Mr. Silver intimated, was merely the consequence of 
laziness, want of ambition, and a disbelief in the potentialities 
of the active man. He stressed the fact that "our forefathers" 
(most of the boys and their parents had been born in Europe) 
"could not have thrown off the British yoke and launched 'our' 
great and successful Republic had they not been proud, hard, 
and industrious individualists." And commenting on the re- 
ports of a sanguine clash between striking coal-miners in 
Pennsylvania and the armed forces dispatched to the area by 


the Governor of the state, Mr. Silver reminded us that there 
were no unions and no strikes at Concord, Valley Forge, and 
Yorktown. No, sir! Only the frustrated and the cowardly 
would favor unions and engage in strikes. It was the aim of the 
Socialists to destroy initiative and take from the industrious 
rich their well-earned possessions and hand them over to the 
lazy, shiftless poor. And what would be the gain, Mr. Silver 
inquired oratorically. Why, there would be no gain! he 
answered himself. If the wealth of the country were to be di- 
vided equally, the rich would lose everything and the poor 
would hardly gain anything! 

Whatever the boys, the majority of whom were only too 
well acquainted with poverty, may have thought of Mr. Sil- 
ver's contempt for the poor, I could not, try as I did, quite 
share it. Wishing earnestly to adopt Mr. Silver's opinions on 
all matters, I examined the habits and behavior of the indigent 
class of which my family was a part. I found, much against 
my will, hardly any evidences of laziness. 

Perhaps if Mr. Silver had stopped in Rutgers Square some 
evening and listened to the speakers of the Socialist Labor 
Party he would have revised his estimate of the poor. I would 
often join the small crowd in front of one of these men and 
listen to descriptions of soul-and-body-destroying sweatshops 
and impassioned enumerations of the iniquities of the "bosses" 
who owned them. I heard that fathers left for work while 
their children were still asleep and returned home after they 
had gone to bed. In consequence they saw their offspring so 
seldom as to make a mockery of parenthood. I heard with 
horror that the "bosses" were drinking the blood of their 
workmen and women. And while I knew that to be only a 
figure of speech (my mother often accused me of drinking 
hers), the image it evoked gave me the measure of the soulless 
cupidity of the possessing class. As the one remedy for all its 
cruelties and abuses, and on his assurance that we had nothing 
to lose but our chains, the speaker urged us to unite. The loss 

Mr. Silver , Individualist 1 3 7 

of our chains was also a figure of speech which I was able to 
translate. But the speaker was vague about the exact change 
that would occur in our lives following that desirable eventu- 
ality. An outline of some program would have enabled me to 
oppose Mr. Silver's philosophy of competitive individualism. 
But it was not forthcoming; and the enthusiasm the speakers 
communicated to me in Rutgers Square was likely to evaporate 
in the classroom, where I could not withstand the force of 
Mr. Silver's opposition. 

On the other hand, my elder sisters were ardent Socialists 
and believed strongly in the necessity of unionization. Their 
arguments were rather persuasive, the more so as they had 
great affection for me, frequently fondled and embraced me, 
and sometimes gave me pennies to buy chocolate-covered 
walnuts or candy-coated apples on a stick. Mr. Silver did not 
seem like a man who could dispense or even feel affection, 
though he could easily inspire it. Perhaps his aversion to the 
poor was really caused by this lack in him and by his confi- 
dence and pride in himself. I thought that if all people had his 
strength and ambition, there would be no need for unions. But 
my sisters said that Mr. Silver sounded like an unfeeling and 
despotic man, the kind that takes delight in grinding down the 
poor. I had to admit to myself that there was some truth in this 
estimate. Yet one had to see and know Mr. Silver to do him 
justice. True, he was a despot. But I, who had had occasion to 
experience his cruelty, could nevertheless appraise him as a 
benevolent one. At any rate, I was perpetually torn between 
Mr. Silver's dynamic conservatism and my own inclination 
toward the liberalism of my sisters and the orators in Rutgers 

From one of the speakers I learned one evening of the heroic 
efforts of the workers in the East Side bakeries to form a 
a union. The man exhorted us to aid these courageous souls 
by refusing to eat non-union loaves. "Even a child can help 
'the Cause,' " he cried, espying me in the group around him. 


"When you get home tonight, little boy, look for the union 
label," he said directly to me. I followed his injunction when 
I got home, and I discovered that neither the rye loaf nor the 
twist bread my mother had bought that day had the union 
label pasted on them. When I told my sisters of the bakers' 
plight, they agreed with me that we were honor bound to forgo 
eating the unhallowed loaves. My mother, however, took the 
position that as the bread was not returnable, our eating the 
loaves could not possibly harm the embattled bakers. Hence- 
forward, she assured us, she would take care to buy only 
properly unionized bread. It seemed to me that more was in- 
volved in the situation than expediency, and I was for con- 
signing the offending loaves to the garbage pail or, if that was 
sinful, for giving it to our Christian neighbors across the hall. 
Not being subject to scruples of any kind, Christians, it was 
commonly held, were prepared to eat everything. My mother 
would not hear of such a foolish disposition of what she said 
was perfectly good, non-returnable bread, and my sisters re- 
luctantly agreed with her. I vowed that I would not touch the 
loaves. But at supper that night my mother remarked that as 
I had made my point, it was foolish to labor it by starving my- 
self. She then cut and buttered for me a thick slice, which I 
ate with the melancholy satisfaction of a pragmatic martyr. 
The following evening I found the same passionate defender 
of the revolutionary bakers addressing a meeting in Rutgers 
Square. He recognized me and inquired whether I had acted 
on his suggestion of the night before. When I told him I had, 
he invited me to mount the podium and tell the crowd about it. 
I climbed onto the box, but the unexpected invitation deprived 
me for a while of my powers of speech. The encouragement of 
my sponsor, however, and the friendliness of the crowd soon 
exercised a reassuring effect on me, and I began to speak, at 
first haltingly, then carried away by my subject and the 
commanding position I had suddenly attained volubly and 
with consideration for dramatic effect. I described with much 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 139 

detail my rushing home the night before and the discovery of 
the unlabeled loaves in our bread box. Then, assembling my 
entire family, I put before them with all the eloquence I could 
command the aims and ideals of the insurgent bakers. My 
family (I confessed to my audience) had always been reac- 
tionary in thought and feeling, and my pleas, therefore, fell on 
deaf ears. I adjured them not to touch the accursed loaves or, if 
need be, give them to the Chreestchs. But they were adamant, 
and at supper prepared to eat them. This I said I could not 
countenance, and before my mother could reach for a knife, I 
seized the loaves, ran out of the house, and dumped them in 
some near-by garbage can. I spent the night on a truck in 
Water Street, scorning to go home. And with the pathetic 
prophecy that punishment would certainly await me on my re- 
turn, I finished and stepped down. Then it was that I first 
tasted the tremulous delight of applause. In that instant I 
knew what Jacob P. Adler, Mrs. K. Lipzin, and my own 
adored Bertha Kalich felt when the curtain descended on one 
of their bravura scenes. If through some unforeseen obstacle I 
was not to achieve my ambition to be a great actor, I would 
certainly devote my life to the cause of downtrodden labor 
and address crowds nightly in Rutgers Square and on the street 
corners of the East Side. 

Although I had distorted the events of the night before, 
there was some truth in my assertion that my family held con- 
servative views on political and economic subjects. At any 
rate, my father held them, while my mother adopted for 
diplomatic reasons a neutral attitude, though my sisters and I 
felt that her sympathies were secretly with us. She and my 
father read Der Tog, a conservative daily, while my sisters 
took Der Forward, the organ of the liberals and Socialists. 

My sister Molly, who loved poetry and could mimic the 
declamatory style of the best tragic actresses on Grand Street 
and the Bowery, memorized some of the poems that were 
printed in Der Forward, which she recited to us when my 


father was away from home. There was one poem I never 
grew tired of hearing. It was a rather long poem, an epic of 
suffering, hopelessness, and death which gave full scope to my 
sister's histrionic talent. "In Grand Street, not far from 
Suckerstein's store," she would begin in a deceptively con- 
versational tone, but with due regard for its rhythm, proceed- 
ing to describe a bent and seedy man who daily haunted that 
busy spot and peddled matches to the indifferent and hurrying 
passers-by. I cannot recall what transition the poet used to 
bring this wretched man to the office of a prosperous but 
conscientious doctor in the neighborhood. But, wild-eyed and 
importunate, he broke into the doctor's study, and my sister's 
voice reflected the agony and desperation of the intruder. "My 
wife! You must hurry! There's no time to lose," my sister 
intoned rhythmically in accents of anguished impatience. The 
room became tense with the imminence of tragedy, though we 
were all quite familiar with the story. At this the heart of the 
sensitive physician melted. "The doctor snatched his hat and 
coat," my sister said in an accelerated tempo, "And they 
hurried on their way." When they arrived in the match- 
vendor's dimly lit garret, the doctor took one look at the 
wasted form on the bed and cried: "You murderer! What 
have you done! Of undernourishment she's dead!" My sister's 
supreme moment came with the final lines: "The husband 
with a piercing shriek himself fell dead across the bed." The 
tears were in her eyes, and she stood rigid, staring ahead, as 
Mrs. K. Lipzin did in the theater at the end of each act. The 
tableau my sister conjured up was as corporeal to me as if I 
were seeing the tragic figures in the flesh. It seemed to me that 
if Mr. Silver could hear my sister's dramatic reading of this 
poem, his mind would be cleared of his misconceptions about 
the poor and his heart would be softened toward them. 

I used sometimes also to wonder whether my father's dog- 
matic conservatism would be able to withstand the assault on 
the emotions of the poetry in Der Forward. There seemed to 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 141 

be a good deal of poetry in the holy books he read or chanted. 
His voice, too, as he prayed had a decided musical quality, 
and he employed artfully a variety of tonal shades. The 
Lamentations of Jeremiah were strangely emotional and dra- 
matic as he sang them, and he intoned the Song of Solomon 
and the Psalms of David so rapturously that they were moving 
to hear even if one could not grasp their meaning. There could 
be no question about the genuineness of his appreciation of the 
poetry and music of the Bible and other sacred books. What 
puzzled me was that this appreciation had no influence on his 
character, opinions, and behavior. They brought him no 
closer to a consideration of the misfortunes and problems of 
the poor. Though he was not so lucid as Mr. Silver, he man- 
aged to convey the same bias for capitalism the teacher could 
so brilliantly rationalize. 

He seemed never to consider anyone but himself. His dis- 
pleasure with what he called my mother's extravagance which 
was summed up in his oft-repeated "I need nothing, myself," 
could not be justified by the small contribution he made to the 
support of the household. It is true that my mother spoiled 
him, as she did me, and I was often jealous of the indulgence 
she showed him. I could not conceive of a mother loving any- 
one more than her children, especially more than an only son. 
Love for children, especially for an only son, I was certain, 
was rooted in nature. It was therefore immutable. Not so a 
wife's love for her husband, which was ordained by nature to 
be secondary. When a husband died, the wife after a suitable 
period of mourning and quietude found herself another hus- 
band. If she truly loved the first, how could she marry a 
second? It followed therefore that sexual love was an in- 
ferior, temporary emotion. On the other hand, when a mother 
lost a son, any replacement was unthinkable. I had heard of 
instances where mothers killed themselves rather than live on 
without their sons. My oldest sister had even read in a novel 
by a French author about a mother who sacrificed her life for 


her daughter. For a daughter I thought that that was going a 
little too far. In general I was certain that my mother loved 
me in that absolute fashion. And when she quarreled with my 
father, as happened frequently, I read in her bitter reproaches 
the proof I was always seeking, that she did not love him as 
much as she loved me or in the same way. For while she was 
often angry with me, and even went so far as to slap me, she 
was always remorseful immediately after and would kiss and 
hug me and weep and call me her treasure and joy. 

But there were times when I thought she showed a solici- 
tude for my father exceeding the demands of secondary affec- 
tion. Significantly enough, such instances always occurred on a 
Friday. It was generally on Friday that my father chose to 
take umbrage at something or other, and it was not long before 
I discovered the reason. 

He had struck up a friendship with a fellow member of his 
synagogue, a venerable man with a long beard who lived with 
his wife in a three-room tenement on Pike Street. Zalman 
Reich was his name, and my father held him to be the most 
fortunate of men. For Zalman Reich had been blessed with 
six sons, all of whom were married and prosperous, and 
generous to their father to a fault. Mr. and Mrs. Reich (their 
offspring had united in dropping the "e" out of their surname), 
my father repeatedly told us, lived in ease and luxury at the 
expense of their children, who took great pride in their 
parents' well-being and contentment. Because of the mu- 
nificence of his sons, Zalman had unlimited leisure at his 
disposal, and he spent most of his time at the synagogue, 
where he was greatly respected for his readiness to bid high 
for the privilege of holding the Torah and to purchase the 
most expensive seat on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. 
My father never tired of expounding the virtues of his friend 
and calling attention to the never-ending generosity of the 

The latest proof of their solicitude for Zalman Reich made a 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 143 

deep impression on my father, who came home from syna- 
gogue one day bursting with the news. He could hardly wait 
to wash and dry his hands to tell us. "Some men have all the 
luck," he said, looking accusingly at me. He then turned to 
my mother. "What do you think those boys have done for 
Zalman now? They have made him a present of an operation 
on his left eye, the one that has the cataract. Zalman told the 
whole congregation about it today. They've engaged the best 
eye-doctor, and it will cost twenty dollars! That's what I call 
children!" I looked abashed and ate in silence. The name of 
Zalman Reich was always on my father's lips, and his visits 
to the Reichs grew more and more frequent. 

One Friday when I came home from school, I knew by the 
unhappy expression of my mother's face and by my father's 
calculated, punitive silence that there had been a quarrel. I 
saw my father take his prayer shawl and phylacteries from a 
bureau drawer, wrap them in an old newspaper, and tie the 
bundle with a string. He then put on his hat and coat and, with 
the bundle under his arm, stalked out of the house without a 
word of explanation or farewell. At supper time he had not re- 
turned. My mother, unable to conceal her anxiety, sent me 
to the synagogue to see if he had loitered there. I found no 
one at the synagogue but the beadle, who told me that my 
father had gone off with Zalman Reich. This information 
mollified my mother, but she ate little at supper. When I went 
to bed he had not yet come home. Early the next morning my 
mother woke me. She appeared much agitated. "Get dressed," 
she commanded, "and run to Zalman Reich's. Tell your father 
to come home. Tell him I'm sorry." At the Reichs' I found my 
father alone in the kitchen wearing his prayer shawl and 
phylacteries. When he paused for a moment in his prayers, I 
delivered my message. He made no reply, and I ran home. 
Toward evening my mother wrapped two pieces of gefilte fish 
and half of a twist bread in a sheet of newspaper and bade me 
go again to the Reichs' and deliver the package to my father. 


Again I found him alone. He opened the bundle and saw what 
it contained. He showed no surprise, but sat down at the table 
and ate the fish with his usual relish. 

On Sunday morning he returned home and was received by 
my mother with, to me, shocking manifestations of remorse 
and delight. For days after, I found myself neglected by her, 
her mind only on the problem of avoiding a repetition of his 
flight from home. I could not now deny to myself that she 
felt an unnatural love for him. I lay awake suffering agonies of 
jealousy and wondering how she could prefer him to me. For 
aside from my being her own flesh and blood, her only son, I 
knew myself to be kind and affectionate (except for a few In- 
consequential exhibitions of willfulness), and could feel pity 
for others; whereas my father was self-centered and unfeeling, 
and had, like Mr. Silver, no use for the poor. I had to admit 
he was handsome, but was that sufficient to make up for his 
outbursts of temper or his long, apparently premeditated 
silences, which were even harder to bear? Could it be that I 
had misread the character of my mother, that she had not 
really merited the love I had trustingly lavished on her? I 
determined to withdraw my love from her entirely and give 
it all to rny older sister, Hannah. Hannah, I had no reason to 
doubt, loved me and no one else. She was lovely to look at, and 
had such a beautiful voice that I could not concentrate on my 
homework when she sang old Russian songs, and even the 
next-door neighbors refrained from rapping on the wall in 
protest. Once in a while a suitor would appear. But thus far 
she had shown no preference for anyone but me. 

A few days after my father's memorable flight my mother 
became her old self again and I found myself once more the 
center of her life. I was now, as in pre-flight days, the "apple 
of her eye," her "Benjamin," her "staff," and her "rod." I 
decided I had mistaken a momentary aberration for a funda- 
mental change in character, and I submitted at first warily and 
later unreservedly to her embraces. Only on Fridays I was 

Mr. Silver, Individualist 145 

aware of a certain faint aloofness and reserve in her attitude 
toward me, a preoccupation with something that I felt had no 
relation to me at all. But her indifference to me vanished the 
moment my father came home from synagogue. She met him at 
the door with a basin of water and a towel. And when he had 
silently washed and dried his hands and taken his place at the 
head of the table, preparatory to saying a prayer over the pair 
of twist breads in front of him, she hovered near him, poised 
to interpret his peremptory gestures and wordless sounds; for 
piety forbade the use of speech until the prayer waj over and 
bread had been broken. In those suspended, critical moments 
my father, perhaps finding the salt missing, would point with 
his right forefinger dramatically at the loaves and make im- 
patient sounds like "M-m. M-m." And my mother would try 
to guess what he meant and offer him one thing after another, 
while his voice rose in pitch more and more irately as she suc- 
cessively guessed wrong. At length the process of elimination 
would point to the saltcellar, and the ordeal would be over. 
My sisters and I always watched this performance with re- 
sentment. I wondered if Zalman Reich behaved so im- 
periously toward his wife. I determined that when I grew up 
I would force my mother to rebel against her husband's high- 
handedness, whether she loved him or not. There was, too, 
such a thing as divorce. Many couples we knew threatened to 
divorce each other, though none ever carried out the threat. 
At any rate, someday I would insist on a divorce. I would then 
find out once and for all which of us she really loved. 

In the meantime I would dedicate myself to the important 
task of making the world a better place to live in for the people 
around me. With the end of the school term and my promotion 
to the next grade, the influence of Mr. Silver's jaunty con- 
servatism began to wane, and in the summer vacation it dis- 
appeared altogether. Night after night I made impromptu 
speeches from crates or the back ends of wagons. And the 
more I spoke and the more I was applauded for my impas- 


sioned delivery, the more certain I was that the workers of the 
world must either unite or perish. There came a moment, 
however, when I wavered between socialism and anarchism. 
One night, what I thought was a Socialist meeting turned out 
to be an anarchist rally. I had heard vaguely about anarchism, a 
philosophy even more abhorrent to Mr. Silver and my father 
than socialism. But now, as the speaker explained it, it seemed 
to hold greater promise for a better world for the poor and 
suffering than socialism. Indeed, socialism could be con- 
sidered only as a steppingstone to the ideal of human existence 
which anarchism promised. When, with my help, the workers 
of the world had united and lost their chains, I would then ex- 
amine the philosophy of anarchism in greater detail. At the 
moment the possibilities for man appeared limitless. 


We Were Eight" 


HCJR family was presently reduced to eight by 
the marriage of my sisters Gertie and Lea. To everybody's 
astonishment, Gertie married her uncle (and mine), my fa- 
ther's younger brother Sam, who had recently emigrated from 
Ula. Like ourselves, Sam had come to America at the sugges- 
tion of Mr. Gold. This time the amiable junk-dealer made 
good his promise of a job. He gave Sam the spare room in his 
house in Passaic, staked him to a second-hand utility wagon 
and an aging horse, and set him up as an itinerant peddler of 
household wares. Sam spent his Sundays in our house, and 
after supper Gertie would accompany him to the Madison 
Street car, the first of several conveyances, not counting the 
Duane Street ferry, which relayed him back to Passaic. One 
Sunday the two left the house as usual, but reappeared half an 
hour later and announced that they had decided to get married. 


Much to my surprise, my father saw no objection in their 
close family relationship. To me it seemed ludicrous for two 
people who knew each other so intimately to marry. On the 
other hand, the marriage had the advantage of being unusual, 
and I hastened to spread the news among my playmates on the 
street. None of my friends could match so sensational an 
event. I could now boast that my oldest sister possessed a 
husband and uncle, and I an uncle and a brother-in-law, all in 
one person. 

The marriage of my sister Lea was less sensational, though 
equally unexpected. Lea worked in a ladies' garment factory 
on Canal Street and, except for attendance at night school, 
generally spent her evenings at home. She was small and 
dumpy, had a mass of blond hair and a pug nose, and was shy 
and self-conscious with strangers. We were therefore sur- 
prised to hear that she had been seen walking on East Broad- 
way with an unknown man several nights after supper. The 
rumor finally reached my father, who made a scene about it 
one morning at breakfast, demanding to be told what manner 
of man would go walking with a presumably respectable girl 
without first presenting himself to her family. What was 
even worse, his daughter and her unidentified beau had been 
observed sitting together on our stoop! Nice people, my father 
said witheringly, did not sit on stoops, where they became the 
subjects of the ribald speculation of the world as it sauntered 
by. Lea, weeping, confessed that she had been walking out 
with a man she had met some time ago at night school. They 
had also sat on the stoop once, but only by reason of fatigue. 
The man's name was Mannie Mannie Kalb. He was a house- 
painter, and he lived at home with his father and mother. 
Pressed for further details, Lea confessed that he stammered 
slightly and had little hair. But against these unimportant 
defects she claimed for him the virtues of industry and good 
nature, and for his parents piety and respectability. She hadn't 
asked Mannie up because she was afraid his stammer would 

"Then We Were Eight" 149 

subject him to ridicule. My father, though alive to the neces- 
sity of marrying off Lea to the first respectable suitor (re- 
spectability and a job were all that he demanded) , listened im- 
passively and gave her an ultimatum. She must either produce 
Mannie Kalb for inspection forthwith or drop him alto- 

Two or three evenings later Mannie paid us a formal visit 
and was at once subjected to the closest scrutiny. His two de- 
ficiencies were decidedly more marked than Lea had indi- 
cated, both appearing to have reached completion. His stam- 
mer, now aggravated by nervousness, made conversation with 
him almost impossible and much embarrassed Lea, who vali- 
antly and (for her) rather defiantly attempted repeatedly to 
help him out in his struggle with some particularly refractory 
word. Though I could hardly keep from laughing at his gro- 
tesque, frantic efforts to make himself understood, a simple 
pathos about his helplessness drew me toward him. All the 
same, my mother was obliged to make occult, threatening 
signs to me from behind the unfortunate suitor's chair to ob- 
serve decorum. And somehow, by means of a variety of facial 
contortions and desperate gesticulation Mannie Kalb managed 
to project a naive and kind personality that bore out my sister's 
opinion of him. No one laughed even during the critical mo- 
ments when he seemed irrevocably sunk in unintelligibility. 
As she usually did in moments of crisis, my mother brought in 
tea and cakes. Mannie, grateful for the respite, drank glass 
after glass, and so did the rest of us, hardly knowing what else 
to do. Suddenly Mannie pushed his glass aside, rose, advanced 
to my father, and tried to speak. It was a long and painful at- 
tempt. He had reached a climax of incoherence when Lea, 
moved by shame and pity, hastily took over and interpreted 
the furious struggle for expression we had witnessed as Man- 
nie' s announcement of their engagement. At this intelligence, 
my father, wasting no time on Mannie, addressed himself to 
Lea and drew from her such details about the state of her 


lover's finances and kindred matters as might determine our 
family's attitude to the proposed alliance. Satisfied at last on 
all points, he blessed his daughter, shook hands with the per- 
spiring, happy Mannie and suggested a speedy meeting be- 
tween himself and the senior Kalb for the discussion of ar- 
rangements for the wedding. 

The elder Kalb, while a good man with an unsullied record 
for piety, was, like his son, a house-painter and therefore at a 
disadvantage as a m'chutan (in-law). One need not be ashamed 
of a m'chutan who was in business for himself, one who, for 
example, ran a butcher's shop, a shoe store (a cobbler, like a 
tailor, was taboo, as in the old country; tailors, however, were 
fortunately nonexistent in America, where everyone wore 
ready-made clothes), a "men's furnishings" store, a kosher 
delicatessen. But one could be proud of a m'chutan who was 
engaged in "big" business, an employer of labor on a grand 
scale, say a proprietor of a sweatshop with five or ten em- 
ployees, or even a "boss" carpenter or painter with two or 
three men under him. One could hardly boast in the synagogue 
about a m'chutan who was only a day laborer, or bring him 
around to meet the congregation. Yet (as my mother pointed 
out to him) my father was in no position to talk about kovod 
(honor). Lea had no dowry. She was, in fact, penniless. And 
while dowries were less important in America than they were 
"at home," a man could hardly be blamed for expecting 
"something" to go with his bride. Granted that Mannie was 
no longer young, and that his defects were serious enough to 
decrease his value in the marriage market, nevertheless as a 
man he was worth "something." And if he had had the sense 
to place himself in the hands of a shadchen, he might have 
fetched a decent sum, though perhaps not a fortune. My 
mother recalled to my father the unfortunate case of her own 
sister's daughter Beylke, in Russia. For two years now 
Beylke's marriage had been held up for lack of a sufficient 
dowry. My mother had a stack of letters from her sister in 

"Then We Were Eight" 1 5 1 

Vitebsk relating to Beylke's still unsettled position. Beylke 
was in no sense an objectionable creature. Yet the only suitor 
the shadchen was able to scare up for her demanded a dowry 
of one hundred rubles. He had finally come down to ninety, 
and it was at that figure that both he and his mother took their 
rock-bottom stand. My aunt's frantic efforts to raise that sum 
had so far netted only fifty rubles (ten of which my mother 
had somehow obtained and contributed without, of course, the 
knowledge of my father) . In her last letter, the distracted 
mother had written that she had made a supreme effort to 
effect a downward revision of the impossible sum. But the 
suitor's mother remained heartlessly, even godlessly ob- 
durate. "I'd rather see him rot," was her final crushing answer. 
And there the matter now stood. 

My father took the hint and accepted the situation with 
what grace he could command. He did not invite the senior 
Kalb to his synagogue, but accepted his invitation to dinner, 
though not before assuring himself of the house-painter's 
strict observance of the dietary laws. The invitation included 
the rest of the family. Molly and I, who had a propensity to 
laugh at everything, were warned to behave. The dinner went 
off without a hitch. The senior Kalb offered my father the 
head of the table, which my father accepted as his due and as 
the symbol of the house-painter's understanding and ac- 
ceptance of a secondary role in his future relationship with our 
family. Mrs. Kalb had cooked a very large dinner, the climax 
of which was a great chunk of sweet-and-sour meat. It was my 
father's favorite dish next to gefilte fish, and he looked pleased, 
unaware that Lea had given her future mother-in-law the hint. 

Mrs. Kalb, a large, fat woman, resplendent in a long black 
taffeta dress, and wearing a small gold watch attached to a 
gold chain long enough to encompass her ample neck twice, 
served the meal and, like all housewives, did not sit down at 
the table until the dessert, of stewed prunes and dried apricots, 
had tapered off the repast. My mother owned no jewelry ex- 


cept an imitation mother-of-pearl pin in the shape of a fish, 
with a tiny black bead for an eye, which she wore at her throat 
on ceremonious occasions. The scaly pink fish now appeared 
insignificant alongside Mrs. Kalb's watch and chain. And 
when Mrs. Kalb finally sat down at the table, my mother sub- 
tly established her own disdain of worldly possessions and her 
cultural superiority over her hostess by casual references to 
her eminent father, Reb Shnayer Tresskanov of Vitebsk, and 
the love of austerity he had inculcated in his children. Mr. 
Kalb called my father "Reb," and Mannie, more at ease in his 
own house, stammered less and succeeded in telling, albeit 
with a certain difficulty, a joke relating to the foibles of house- 
painters. When we were ready to take our leave, the elder 
Kalb produced a bottle of whisky and two long, thin silver 
goblets, gold-faced on the inside. The two machutonim had 
one drink apiece, my father saying: "Sholom aleichein" and 
Mr. Kalb answering: "Aleichem sholom" This ceremonious 
exchange made the engagement of Lea and Mannie official. 

I had hoped that at least one of my sisters would marry into 
a family rich enough to afford an elaborate wedding at 
Pythagoras Hall, with a string of hired carriages to take us 
there. It was true that Pythagoras Hall was only half a block 
from our house, but I knew that proximity to Pythagoras Hall 
did not deter affluent or ostentatious families residing close 
to it from conducting their weddings on a scale that imposed 
hired carriages. The Hirsch wedding was a case in point. Mr. 
Hirsch lived even closer to Pythagoras Hall than we did, but 
when he married off his eldest daughter, the wedding party 
went in five open carriages from the Hirsch residence on East 
Broadway through Rutgers Street, turned left at Henry 
Street, turned left again at Jefferson Street into East Broad- 
way, and drew up, as if after a long journey, at Pythagoras 
Hall. It was a most impressive cortege, and crowds of 
pedestrians, myself among them, followed the slow-moving 
vehicles. People watched us from the sidewalks and from 

"Thm We Were Eight" 153 

windows, admiring the rented white satin dress of the bride 
and the shiny stovepipe hats of the groom and the more im- 
portant male relatives. Having cleverly melted into a party of 
the children of invited guests, I slipped unnoticed into 
Pythagoras Hall, which presented a vision of opulence. The 
ceremony took place in a richly decorated room, I standing on 
a chair to get a better view. Under an elaborately embroidered 
chuff ah (canopy) of red velvet, a stout, bearded rabbi in a 
tight-fitting surtout with velvet lapels intoned the service in a 
strong falsetto and with many coloratura embellishments of 
his own. First the rabbi addressed himself to the bride and 
groom in turn. But soon after, intoxicated with his own 
virtuosity, he looked away and gazed at the ceiling as he sang, 
like an artist at a recital glorying in his mastery of his art. At 
the end of the rabbi's eloquent performance, the bride was ro- 
tated around the groom several times. The rabbi then lifted the 
bridal veil, and the bride touched the rim of the wineglass that 
he held out to her. The groom sipped next; then the ring was 
placed on the bride's finger. The room was now hushed as the 
rabbi, carefully wrapping the wineglass in a napkin and placing 
it on the floor, crushed it loudly underfoot. 

The crunching noise set off great shouts of "Mazoltov! 
(Congratulations!)," the machutonim embraced, the violin, 
cornet, drum, and piano, which had been waiting for this very 
signal, broke into "Choson, Kaloh, mazoltov! (Groom, bride, 
congratulations!)." The married pair sailed away in a dance 
across the length of the room, between two long lines of 
guests formed to provide a narrow lane for the exhibition. 
These favored guests clapped their hands in rhythm with the 
music, sang and laughed and called the bride and groom by 
their first names. Having initiated the revels, the couple re- 
tired to throne-like chairs at one end of the room to watch 
their guests cavort and to receive the personal felicitations of 
those able to make their way to them through the great press 
of celebrators. Strangely enough, the groom seemed to be the 


more popular of the pair, especially with the male guests, who 
flocked around him and whispered in his ear such things as 
made him laugh and blush. When the general exuberance had 
begun to subside, an impressive-looking master of ceremonies 
stood up on a chair, motioned the drummer to execute a roll, 
loud and long, and in the ensuing silence announced in a voice 
of thunder that supper was ready in the great room downstairs 
and ordered the gentlemen to escort their ladies below to the 
strains of a grand march that the orchestra would immediately 
strike up. Led by the bride and groom, with the machutonim 
following behind, a procession of couples formed and marched 
to the quick step of the grand march. But not for long; for 
some of the guests, overeager to get to the banquet hall first, 
broke ranks and ran ahead. In a moment the orderly march 
had become a stampede, with the children (myself among 
them) snaking their way to the forefront and rushing down the 
wooden steps with a great clatter. Down in the dining-room 
confusion reigned for a long time. People who had rushed to 
seat themselves near the bride and groom had to be forcibly 
dislodged by the master of ceremonies, who held a paper with 
the seating arrangement and could not be swerved from his 
determination to fill the long bridal table according to the 
strictest protocol. 

The supper was the most varied and lavish I had thus far 
encountered either at home or at the house of relatives. For, 
besides such common hors d'oeuvres as herring (this herring, to 
be sure, was "schmaltz" and therefore a cut above the tough, 
salty variety we could afford at home), raw onions, malinki 
(black olives), helzel (stuffed neck), new dill pickles, and 
chopped liver, there was chicken fricassee as the main dish 
and crown of the repast. I had known chicken exclusively in its 
austere boiled state, garnished with whole, waterlogged 
onions or accompanied by masses of noodles, the whole swim- 
ming in an overgenerous supply of broth. But chicken fricassee 
was so special a form as to make it seem improbable that it 

"Then We Were Eight" 155 

could ever be served in any home, however pretentious. It was 
known by reputation to most of the children of the neighbor- 
hood, but only a few had ever come face to face with it. I 
could now testify that it deserved its fame. A huge earthen- 
ware casserole was placed on our table. Its cover being re- 
moved, a soft aromatic vapor rose from the interior and en- 
gaged our nostrils. And inside the vast dish lay who knows 
how many golden chickens in ruins, in innumerable pieces, 
large and small, like a scientific assemblage of the parts of pre- 
historic creatures. Breasts, wings, legs, giblets, gizzards 
languished in glistening, brownish gravy in inviting disorder! 
The supper might well have come to an end with the fricassee. 
But there followed a large variety of honeyed desserts and, 
for a finish, piping-hot noodle soup. Wine was served only at 
the bridal table, where toasts seemed never-ending, except 
during the chicken-fricassee course, when a silence fell on the 
room and only the sounds of chicken bones being crunched 
and the smacking of lips could be heard. 

At one point during the dessert the master of ceremonies 
opened and read aloud a telegram that had just arrived. I was 
astonished at the extravagance of the sender, for telegrams 
were too costly for joyful occasions. The message was from a 
near relation of the bride residing in faraway Baltimore. It was 
both ingenious and witty. As all telegrams were restricted 
(I believed) to ten words, I marveled at the sender's clever 
choice of words. Indeed, the restriction had the positive effect 
of challenging his ingenuity. It would have taken, ordinarily, 
twice that number of words to express sentiments so various 
and complex. "Hundred years happiness bride groom may 
troubles be little ones." Such was the message which was 
translated into Yiddish for the benefit of the elderly machu- 
tonim and guests combining neatly the obvious with a 
witty play on words that brought laughter and applause from 
everyone there, even from the children. 

This was the kind of wedding I had hoped for. And on 


first beholding Mannie Kalb I felt that there might be a 
chance that his deficiencies would be counterbalanced by a 
corresponding affluence, and that he and Lea would be married 
In Pythagoras Hall. But that hope was soon dispelled. For 
Lea assured us that Mrs. Kalb's gold watch and chain repre- 
sented the sum of the family's savings. Indeed, the economic 
situation of the Kalbs was little better than our own. Perhaps 
their prospects were better than ours, for they invested heavily 
in lottery tickets, buying at regular intervals as many as three 
at a time at fifty cents apiece. They had been buying lottery 
tickets steadily for three years, and by the law of averages 
they were due soon to win five hundred dollars. In the mean- 
time they were in no position to stage an expensive and 
fashionable wedding. So my sister's marriage took place one 
Sunday morning in our house before a limited number of 
relatives and friends. Though resigned to a small wedding at 
home, Lea pleaded with my father for a white satin wedding 
dress, veil and slippers to match, the rental of which would 
cost seven and a half dollars. My mother could not but protest 
at such extravagance in a man who eternally preached 
economy. Nevertheless, my father yielded to Lea's plea, and 
as he raised the money by himself, my mother's objection 
had little force. I was glad not only for Lea's sake, but for my 
own. For while I could not boast to my friends about a 
wedding in Pythagoras Hall, I still could talk in a casual way 
about my sister's wedding outfit. Certainly the dress was in 
every way as fine as the one Miss Hirsch had worn. It may 
even have been the very same, for it came from the most 
patronized wedding outfitters on Essex Street. I had seen one 
exactly like it on the life-size dummy bride which, holding on 
to the arm of a life-size dummy groom, stood, smiling and 
radiant, behind the huge plate-glass window of the shop. 

On the pressing invitation of her parents-in-law Lea 
moved into their tenement on Rivington Street. There she 
resided for some time in "idleness," claiming that she was not 

"Then We Were Eight" 1 57 

permitted to "touch a thing" except to do her own room and 
her own and Mannie's laundry. Such indulgence was unusual. 
But Mannie was an only child, and the elder Mrs. Kalb, when 
called upon to justify Lea's luxurious idleness, laughingly said 
that nothing had changed in her house except that she had 
acquired a boarder in the shape of a daughter-in-law. Mrs. 
Kalb's gain was also ours. We now had more room and the 
use of still another extra blanket when the weather grew cold. 
Also, the withdrawal of a member of my father's side of the 
family left the opposing factions less unbalanced than they 
had been heretofore. Tension still continued to be felt like a 
faint but ever-threatening undercurrent. But Lea's marriage 
and absence held in check for a time the deep enmities that 
divided our house. 



.ORE and more I took my stand with my 
mother, Hannah, and Molly against my father and his children. 
The issues became increasingly clear-cut. My two sisters 
(and my mother, in an inactive way) represented culture, 
enlightenment, and pure affection. The rest of the family 
symbolized ignorance, conformity, and selfishness. At the 
time, I was only vaguely familiar with words like "culture" 
and " enlightenment, 77 but I gathered from the reverent inflec- 
tion my sisters gave to them that they were desirable things 
with which the "enemy" could have no connection. On my 
own I compared my sisters' sensitivity to nature and beauty 
with the "enemy's" bland indifference to everything not 
material. I could not recall that my father or any of his chil- 
dren had ever noticed the color of the sky (there were beau- 
tiful sunsets to be seen from our front window) ; but Hannah 

Hannah 1 59 

and Molly were quick to notice and call to my attention the 
changing beauty of the heavens and the streets. 

There was the clock tower of R. Hoe & Co., Inc., the 
printing-press factory, visible from our window, though half 
a mile away, close to the East River. One early summer 
evening Hannah, leaning out of the window, called to me to 
come and see R. Hoe & Co., Inc., floating in the sky, and 
when I looked I saw she had spoken the truth; for there in- 
deed was R. Hoe & Co., Inc., or at any rate the clock tower, 
hanging unattached in the sky in the far distance. Nothing 
of the building was to be seen except the tower a faultless 
blue sky above it, with a single limpid star, and below it creep- 
ing darkness that obliterated the familiar sky line. Seen in the 
light of Hannah's description, it was a breath-taking sight. 
Never again would I look at R. Hoe's merely to tell the time. 
I began to feel the gradations of light and shade in the air and 
on objects that in themselves I had used to think prosaic. 

One late afternoon I ran into the house from play to get a 
piece of bread and butter. My father sat at the kitchen table 
absorbed in a volume of Hebrew commentaries. I had seen 
him in the same position often enough, but this time I was 
struck by the picture he made in the twilit room, his face and 
beard in shadow, the page of the book before him alone reflect- 
ing the sad, attenuated light that suffused the soot-covered 
kitchen window. I felt an ache in the region of my heart as I 
looked. My father was beautiful for the moment, and the 
shadowy outline of his brooding form and hazy features 
seemed the plastic symbol of noble melancholy. 

Molly, while not so delicately responsive to beauty as 
Hannah, appreciated its more obvious manifestations. Her 
reactions were passionate where Hannah's were diffidently 
poetic. She took me on an excursion one summer morning, to 
show me and share with me the beauties of the countryside. 
To embark on an excursion was a difficult undertaking, 
requiring untold patience and fortitude. The excursion was run 


free for the benefit (I believe) of the East Side poor by a 
patriarchal Tammany Hall city administration. Once a 
fortnight during the summer a dilapidated ferryboat filled 
with as many persons as it would hold left the foot of Mont- 
gomery Street and plodded heavily, uneasily, and sagging to 
one side with its overload of people, up the East River, into 
Long Island Sound, and after three or four hours pulled up at 
some rural wharf. There the passengers were disembarked and 
let loose in the adjoining fields for an hour, after which 
several long blasts of the ship's whistle brought them back 
and the boat began its homeward journey. 

So many people, especially children and their mothers, 
desired to go on an excursion that by five in the morning a 
queue many blocks long had already formed at the wharf. 
Molly and I were among them. We stood, holding our lunch 
of bread and butter and pickles in a paper bag, from sunrise to 
ten o'clock, the hour of the ferryboat's departure. The sun, 
at first dispassionately spreading light, soon warmed to its 
primary task of heating the cobblestones under our feet, 
luridly spotlighting the warehouses behind us and scorching 
our heads and faces. Before sailing-time many elderly people 
collapsed and were helped by the younger and tougher- 
fibered excursionists to shady stoops and alleyways, their 
places in the queue having first been guaranteed them. At ten 
the gates of the pier were opened and in a few minutes the 
boat was tightly packed with noisy children, screaming 
babies, distracted mothers, and feeble, bewildered grand- 
parents. The excursionists outnumbered the seating capacity 
of the boat to so large an extent that for every seated person, 
at least five stood up. We marveled that the boat did not 
overturn (it was to overturn one fateful morning, with a 
great loss of life!). Nevertheless it was an excursion, and we 
enjoyed, tightly wedged as we were, the sea air, the passing 
steamers and sailboats, and the prospect of spending an hour 
in the country. When we landed, Molly bade me run with her 

Hannah 1 6 1 

ahead of the crowd toward a distant copse where we might be 
alone. There we rolled on the grass, lay flat on our backs, and 
watched the lazy, cottony clouds melt into one another. I 
could see that Molly was determined to make the most of the 
hour allotted us, and her enthusiasm was contagious. She 
danced around, did handsprings, and for a few minutes stood 
still with her face turned to the sky and her arms outstretched, 
inhaling and exhaling noisily and challengingly. I did the 
same. Then we ate our lunch in great contentment. Four hours 
later we were back in Montgomery Street, tired and per- 
spiring from standing up during the entire trip back. But we 
had been on an excursion, and the hour we spent on the shores 
of Long Island (or was it Connecticut?) became an enchanting 
memory for us both. 

The "other" side of the family knew no such physical and 
aesthetic raptures. Its members, with the exception of Albert 
and Gertie, were content with the briefest of educations. 
Writing and reading elementary English were their acknowl- 
edged goal. Gertie's espousal had automatically placed her 
beyond any need to try even for this limited objective. Albert 
was forging ahead so rapidly in his business of carpentering 
and building that his ignorance of the English alphabet could 
hardly be regarded as a hindrance to success. His faith in his 
dynamism was so complete that on discovering that a cross 
constituted a legal signature, he abandoned a previous deter- 
mination to learn to sign his name. And it was only when he 
was made to realize the anomaly of a devout Jew like himself 
adopting the very symbol of Christianity as his signature that 
he undertook the, to him, distasteful labor of mastering the 
spelling of his name. 

For Hannah and Molly night-school courses in English 
constituted the gateway to English literature. They had read 
much in Russian in the old country, and they continued reading 
Russian books in the new. On the third floor of the Educational 
Alliance, on the corner of East Broadway and Jefferson 


Street, was the Aguilar Public Library, where books in all 
languages might be borrowed for two weeks at no cost. One 
could not, alas, browse in the Aguilar Free Library. A floor to 
ceiling partition kept the borrowers from all access to the 
books that crowded the numberless shelves behind it. Two 
small openings punctured this solid wall, and two ladies in 
white shirtwaists and starched collars stood behind these 
apertures. To one of them one handed a slip of paper on which 
was written the title of the book one wished to borrow and a 
half-dozen alternates should the desired volume be out. 

Once a fortnight I was my sisters' messenger to the Aguilar 
Library, bearing their choice of books on a folded sheet 
of paper. At home I would ask my sisters to tell me the 
stories of the books I brought them. In the window of 
Malkin's bookstore I had seen the same books in English 
translations, and now I learned that in Dostoievsky's Crime 
and Punishment the hero, Raskolnikov, was a good man 
driven by poverty to murder his landlady. Tolstoy's War and 
Peace and Anna Karenina resisted all my sisters' attempts to 
extract a story that might intrigue me, and I lost interest in 
Goncharov's Oblomov when I heard that this so-called hero 
was simply a lazy man to whom nothing whatever happened, 
who was content to lie on his bed or on a couch all day long. 
But one day I brought home from the library Victor Hugo's 
Les Miserabks in English translation. On my way I had opened 
the book to look for illustrations, and the only one in it 
represented a terrifyingly uncouth man on a park bench glaring 
at a small boy who stood near by in a supplicating attitude. 
Not as yet having read the book, Molly, for whom I brought 
it, could not identify for me this pictured encounter. 

A few nights later I was awakened from sleep by the angry 
shouts of my father. He had himself been awakened by a 
sound of sobbing. Rising and going into the kitchen, he had 
discovered Molly with a book in her hand reading by the light 
of a low-burning gas-jet and crying to herself. She was reading 

Hannah 163 

Les Mlserables and had become so absorbed in the story of 
Fantine (she told me the next day) that she could not bear to 
pot the book down and go to bed. At the point where the 
wretched Fantine sells her beautiful blond hair to pay for the 
board and lodging of her little daughter, Cosette, Molly could 
not repress her sobs. And now my father raged at her extrava- 
gant, unauthorized use of expensive illuminating gas, and in 
turn roused the entire household. His anger at length sub- 
siding, he left the kitchen vowing that he would see to it that 
no "foolish" books would ever again enter "his" house. 
Nevertheless I continued my fortnightly visits to the Aguilar 
Library. My sisters read the books I brought back at times 
when my father was away from home. And they concealed 
them in the only safe place in the house, under his own bed, 
where rny father never looked. 

I liked to think that my two sisters and I were a kind of 
secret society like those existing in Chinatown, but bound to- 
gether by xsthetic and poetic perceptions that the "other" 
side of the family both envied and decried. My mother's role 
was that of an ignorant but sympathetic adherent of "our" 
side, whose duty it was to alert us to the plans of the enemy 
and to side with us openly in the event of hostilities. Yet 
this very close alliance was not without its own frictions. 
Indeed, at times it seemed that the association itself would 
not bear the strain of the bickerings of its members and would 
eventually atrophy as a fighting force. In her impatience with 
my numerous peccadilloes, my mother would often say 
things that would incite me to retaliation. I guessed shrewdly 
that the most effective form of revenge was to remain out of 
doors long after my accustomed bedtime. And many nights I 
had the satisfaction (not unmixed with regret) of watching 
her, from my place of concealment behind an ash can, roam 
the street in search of me. 

My sisters, too, sometimes fought with each other and 
with me. Hannah's disposition, except in moments of wrath, 


was angelic. Yet I found a perverse pleasure in teasing her 
and causing her discomfort and even pain. On Sunday morn- 
ings Hannah worked at home manufacturing "cases," the 
paper containers for the insertion of tobacco later. 

As I stood behind her chair one Sunday morning watching 
the cases pile up in a heap, I took it into my head to tease her 
about Mr. Chaikin, a gentleman who had recently taken to 
calling on her. I pretended I was talking to myself. "She 
might just as well marry Mr. Chaikin," I began sotto voce, 
"for everybody knows she's sweet on him." I waited for some 
reaction, but Hannah went on producing cases quickly and 
silently. I tried again with a statement about Mr. Chaikin's 
perfervid attentions to her. This time I drew a response of a 
kind calculated to infuriate me. Hannah began humming a 
snatch of a song in Yiddish the words of which I knew were 
aimed at me. "A dog," she sang, without retarding the speed 
of her work, "may bay at the moon . . . but he remains a 
dog!" As she sang the final word, I took a long breath and 
suddenly shot it out at the large, foamy pile of cases. The 
feathery things floated from the table in all directions, some 
to the ceiling, to which they clung effortlessly, but most to the 
floor. At the same time I made for the door and flew down the 
stairs two at a time, with Hannah in enraged pursuit behind 
me. But by the time she reached the street, I had already disap- 
peared from view. 

When I felt myself safe, remorse gripped me, as it always 
did after an "incident" with any of the three persons I loved 
most in the world, and soon I was back home, resolved to 
make what amends I could. Hannah was on all fours on the 
floor attempting to reassemble the elusive cases. I got down 
beside her and helped restore the pile to the table. Then, 
overcome with shame, I flung my arms around her and said I 
was sorry and implored her never to sing that hateful song 
again in my presence. She held me close and promised to 
abandon the song forever. "Don't you know," she murmured, 

Hannah 165 

"I love you more than anyone in the world!" All the same, 
sometime later probably after some grave provocation on 
my part Hannah forgot her promise and began to sing the 
dreadful phrase again. This time I did not think of revenge. 
Instead I began to cry and Hannah stopped short before the 
offensive word and begged forgiveness, which I, through my 
tears, magnanimously granted. 

Except for these infrequent distressing episodes, my rela- 
tions with Hannah were on a lofty plane. Young as I was, I 
could not help being aware of the difference between her 
nature and that of any other person I knew, not excepting 
Molly and my mother. Her features were disarmingly open, 
yet delicately troubled with some hidden concern. She was 
long-suffering and kind, where Molly was impatient and 
openly resentful. She responded almost automatically to all 
appeals, and as something was always happening to the people 
we knew, Hannah was continually on the go. The most un- 
fortunate among these was my mother's third cousin, Chaie 
Rive Flayshig. Chaie Rive lived with her husband, Nochum, 
and her little twin sons in a distant section of Brooklyn, where 
rents were cheaper than on the East Side. The Flayshigs were 
so desperately poor that by comparison we were rich. At 
least the Flayshigs regarded us as rich. Nochum was a short, 
skinny man who had no particular trade and only infrequently 
found anything to do. He referred to himself as a printer, 
though it was never discovered on what grounds. His wife, 
who knew better, chose not to challenge this statement, at 
least in public. He was very garrulous and, I thought, alto- 
gether convincing when he expatiated on the vicissitudes of the 
printing trade. The trade, It appeared, was riddled with 
intrigue and suicidally bent on keeping the best-qualified men 
out. I wondered that my mother thought him lazy and shift- 
less. But Chaie Rive, although perpetually on the brink of 
starvation, defended him passionately against all attacks, 
blaming the inequalities of the American economic system for 


her misfortunes. And, indeed, no outsider listening to Nochum 
would have any suspicion of the Flayshigs' economic plight. 

Nochum had a passion for telling jokes and anecdotes of a 
humorous nature, even at inopportune moments. He would 
show up at our house looking seedy and unshaven, but genial 
and breezy in manner, and ask if we were familiar with the 
latest story about McKinley. We weren't, of course, and he 
would proceed to tell it slowly, like a well-to-do householder 
relaxing on a Sunday morning with congenial friends or 
relatives. I found his sallies amusing and his manner rather 
charming. But with the exception of Fannie the rest of our 
family tolerated him with impatience and abused him behind 
his back as a heartless, moronic husband and father. To be 
sure, Nochum never came out openly with the real reason for 
his visits; but we learned to know that his appearance at our 
house invariably presaged some misfortune at home, some 
illness or accident, or the imminence of starvation or eviction. 

The colloquy that would eventually disclose his troubles 
would be devious and would consume precious time. My 
mother, by way of a beginning, might suggest a glass of tea. 
Nochum would give her a winning smile and say: "Why not? 
A glass of tea never hurt anyone, as the would-be choson 
[groom] said to the would-be kaloh [bride] when she plied 
him with tea. I suppose you know that story after the young 
man had consumed eighteen glasses of tea without declaring 
himself " My mother interposed to inquire about Chaie Rive 
and the children. Not at all discomposed at having to abandon 
the anecdote, Nochum, still smiling, cried: "Now, that's a 
good question. At this very moment I don't know how they 
are. How should I? I'm here, not in Brooklyn, heh! A man 
hasn't got eyes in the back of his head, has he?" He chuckled 
as if he had scored a point in a jolly game. Then after a sip of 
tea: "But when I left home an hour ago, Chaie Rivke wasn't 
too well. No. She wasn't well at all. In fact," and he beamed, 
"she was quite sick. I don't mind saying it. Why should I? 

Hannah 167 

She was very sick." Nochurn's face was radiant, but his eyes 
became shifty and looked rather frightened. It was the signal 
for Hannah to put on her things and leave with him. 

Hannah would sometimes visit the Flayshigs out of sheer 
friendliness and bring them back with her for a hot supper. 
The twins, aged five, were always neatly, even stylishly 
dressed, their dark hair done up in long, tubular curls looking 
like inflated sausage skins. Chaie Rive was proud of these 
curls, whose perfection must have cost her many hours of 
labor with her forefinger, for she owned no curling-irons or 
curling-pins. To prevent any disturbance of the shape and 
symmetry of their curls, the twins were forbidden to partici- 
pate in any game that could not be played standing still or 
sitting quietly on chairs. Like her husband, Chaie Rive never 
in public so much as hinted at the poverty that embittered her 
existence. But when she spent the night at the Flayshigs 7 , 
Hannah would overhear Chaie Rive reproaching her husband 
for his shiftlessness and indifference to the bare needs of his 
family outbursts that Hannah said were like an angry sea 
thundering against an indifferent and impregnable coast. 
When visiting us, Chaie Rive always spoke warmly of 
Nochum. She would tell us in confidence that he was at that 
very moment snarled up in negotiations for a lucrative print- 
ing job, holding out, if the truth must be told, for more money. 
There could be little doubt that his demands would eventually 
be met. Nochum was not a man who would suffer himself to 
be taken advantage of. 

These confidences Chaie Rive peppered with aphorisms. 
Her aphorisms sounded like the concentrated distillations of 
experience which are current in all lands, but on examination 
they seemed either quite unrelated to experience or else too 
obvious to be worth mentioning. "When one sits in a street- 
car," she would say, "one does not know what is happening on 
its roof!" There certainly was no gainsaying that, and Chaie 
Rive would assume a look of triumph. Chaie Rive's maxims 


were impressive because they were all so remarkably true! 
"A man in prison is not/w," "You can't expect the sun to 
shine when it rains!" "Schools are for learning!" "During a 
storm it is safer to be indoors!" I often wondered why Chaie 
Rive did not apply her store of wisdom to the solution of her 
daily worries. Perhaps she tried, but neither her philosophy of 
life nor Nochum's jaunty indifference to reality ever had the 
slightest effect on their disastrous fortunes. Nor could their 
friends and relations achieve more than temporary ameliora- 
tion of their economic troubles. I see, throughout my child- 
hood and boyhood, the figures of Nochum and Chaie Rive 
frozen in their respective attitudes, like the pair sculptured on 
the Grecian Urn in Keats' s ode he forever amusedly (yet not 
without a hint of terror in his eyes) pursuing an intangible and 
ever-receding job, and she forever affirming propositions of a 
self-evident nature, the while she curls her children's locks 
with a determined forefinger. 

There were others besides the Flayshigs whom Hannah 
befriended at the cost of her leisure. The one I remember best 
was Sarah Schwartz, a widow who sat next to Hannah in the 
cigarette factory. Mrs. Schwartz was in poor health most of 
the time and was often obliged to knock off work early in the 
afternoon and go home. On those occasions Hannah worked 
overtime and gave the widow her extra earnings. Mrs. 
Schwartz had a daughter of my age, and the two lived in a 
small hall bedroom on Henry Street. The little girl was 
blonde and plump, with a round face like her mother's. Her 
name was Lily, to my great joy, and when Hannah went to 
visit the ailing Mrs. Schwartz, I begged to go along and play 
with Lily. While Hannah ministered to the patient, Lily and I 
played jacks on the floor. During one of our visits Mrs. 
Schwartz, sitting up in bed and feeling better, called my 
sister's attention to the happy young couple on the floor and 
said out loud what a fine thing it would be if they married 
each other when they grew up. Though I expected to marry 

Hannah 1 69 

someday, I had never given the subject much thought. But 
the widow's suggestion, while it made me blush, placed Lily 
in a new light. Since I had to marry someone, why shouldn't 
it be Lily, who was cheerful and pretty and looked like her 
mother, who was herself handsome in a mature way, especially 
when she wore her pince-nez with its attached silver chain 
looped over her ear? One of my wedding gifts to Lily would 
be pince-nez, and I would also get a pair for myself. I could 
picture us walking arm in arm on East Broadway of a Sunday 
wearing our pince-nez, which we would often take off and 
wipe with our pocket handkerchiefs, at the same time re- 
vealing to passers-by the raw dents on either side of our 
noses made by the tight-fitting convex metal clasps. 

Presently Hannah sent us to play in the street while she 
tidied up the room. And in the street Lily told me that she 
loved me and asked me to swear that I would marry her. This 
I did, but with some misgiving, for I knew that an oath was a 
solemn thing registered in heaven, and could not be broken 
without the gravest consequences to the swearer. I was also 
somewhat taken aback by Lily's boldness in declaring her 
love, for I had been led to believe by the poems and stories 
we had read in school, as well as by the synopsis of some of the 
books my sisters read, that it was the man's role to be the 
pursuer. However, we were declared sweethearts for some 
weeks, until the advent of summer, when Lily went to spend 
her vacation with a relation in Stamford, Connecticut, who 
kept a candy store on the Main Street and lived in an apart- 
ment above it. When we parted, I promised Lily halfheartedly 
to visit her in the country. But I knew that such a trip was 
beyond my means. And when, on her return from Stamford 
early in September, we met again, both of us were unaccount- 
ably seized with shyness. Our interview grew strangely 
impersonal and awkward, as if we were strangers meeting for 
the first time. From then on we met rarely. I was surprised by 
the instability of my affections, and, looking around to find 


some explanation for it, decided that true love, abiding and 
unchanging, coold be felt only for one's mother and sisters. 

It seemed to me that so beautiful, kind, and unselfish a girl 
as Hannah would attract to herself most of the eligible men of 
the East Side. Yet, notwithstanding her great desirability, the 
number of her suitors was negligible. I cannot have looked 
forward complacently to the time when Hannah would marry 
and leave me. At the same time, I wanted her to be besieged 
by suitors, none of whom she would consider seriously be- 
cause of her great attachment to me. At the moment, I had 
little cause for worry. She showed no unusual interest in 
either of the two men who were her steady callers. Though I 
teased her about Mr. Chaikin, I felt no serious danger in that 
quarter. Mr. Chaikin made no attempt to conceal his inten- 
tions. He was always at the house, and often stayed so late 
that my mother was obliged to apprise him of the hour by 
roundabout hints. As every room became a bedchamber at 
night, none of us could go to bed while a stranger was in the 

I did not fear Mr. Chaikin, because he lacked the romantic 
flavor that I believed a man must possess to interest a woman. 
Yet he had every other attribute of a desirable suitor. He 
was handsome in a florid way, tall, slightly plump, and soft of 
body, his hair curly and parted on the side. He resembled, in 
fact, Boris Thomashefsky, but he missed, somehow, that 
celebrated singing actor's charm. In keeping with this resem- 
blance to that idol, Mr. Chaikin was a devotee of music and 
drama, with a flair of his own for acting and singing. With his 
numerous anecdotes of life on the stage and in the opera house, 
he brought the world of art right into our house. In his 
pleasant baritone he sang entire operas for us. In this he was 
often joined by the true, sweet soprano of Hannah, to whom 
he had taught the feminine portions of his repertoire. 

To cap these musical delights, Mr. Chaikin brought, one 
unforgettable day, a most startling contrivance, which, on 

Hannah 1 7 1 

being wound up, reproduced the actual voices of artists 
singing celebrated arias and even duets and trios. These 
wonderful sounds emerged from an enormous horn attached 
to the machine. Hollow, cylindrical wax molds, carefully 
protected by cotton casings when not in use, imprisoned the 
voices and the music. How Mr. Chaikin could afford so 
elaborate and obviously expensive a machine remained a 
mystery to us all, for he could not with any semblance of 
truth be called a rich man. Mr. Chaikin spoke of himself as an 
artist, and more definitely as a "Fresco-painter." My father 
professed to find little difference between the art of Mr. 
Chaikin and the unglamorous labors of Ida's husband. "A 
painter," he would say with cold finality, "is a painter." But 
while Mr. Chaikin had often impressed on us the difference 
between a "Fresco"-painter like himself and a house-painter 
like my brother-in-law, he was reticent about which of them 
was paid better. We suspected that art was not as lucrative as 
it deserved to be; for Mr. Chaikin inhabited a tiny, dimly 
lighted top-floor bedroom in a decaying tenement on Allen 
Street, the window of which was level with the tracks of the 
elevated railroad. Mr. Chaikin claimed he had chosen the 
room for its north light, the one indispensable condition for 
"Fresco"-painting. But if the light was north, there was, 
because of the presence of the elevated tracks and the station 
shed, very little of it. 

For my part I enjoyed visiting Mr. Chaikin and sitting by 
his window while he painted in water-color small pictures of 
fat cupids to serve as models for his "Fresco" paintings on the 
walls and ceilings of houses he hoped to be engaged to deco- 
rate. It seemed to me I could spend a lifetime at his window 
enjoying the long crescendo of sound of approaching trains 
and the brief but vivid glimpses of the passengers inside the 
cars and on their crowded platforms. When he finished a 
water-color, Mr. Chaikin would show it to me, ask what I 
thought of it, and beg me to bear in mind that what I saw was 


only a small counterfeit, deficient in scope and brilliance, of 
the real thing as it would look in a "Fresco painting." There 
was a house uptown he knew about which was scheduled for 
renovation, and this very water color would be submitted to 
the proprietor as a sample of Mr. Chaikin's skill in art 
decoration. It occurred to me that Mr. Chaikin might have 
borrowed the money for the purchase of the phonograph on 
the strength of such prospects. At that he was making a good 
living out of it one sufficient to marry on. The fact that he 
appeared to enjoy a good deal of leisure meant, Mr. Chaikin 
assured me, nothing. One or two jobs of "Fresco-painting" 
brought him enough to live on for a year. There were plenty of 
prospects "uptown," that vague, affluent region far to the 
north of us, half an hour by horse-car. There rich people with 
a craving for beauty were waiting to be convinced that their 
satin-covered walls and plain ceilings were outmoded and 
inartistic, and that "Fresco-painting" was the desirable 
decoration of the future. Because he had no access to these 
would-be clients, he had put himself in the hands of a friend 
who, as the proprietor of a paint store in a neighborhood 
adjacent to "uptown," was in a position to recommend him to 
householders wishing to redecorate their houses. 

From a worldly point of view Mr. Beylinson, Hannah's 
other constant caller, would be a better match. For one thing, 
Mr. Beylinson was the manager of an ice-cream plant on 
Madison Street. For another, he was a man about whom 
everything was known. He had been one of the earliest of my 
father's pupils in Vitebsk, and he would good-humoredly 
recall several beatings he had taken on the occasion of formal 
visits made by his parents to the cheder. He had come to 
America long before us, and had from the smallest beginnings 
risen to his present eminence in the commercial world. He 
was tall and slim, and his cropped hair stood straight up, with 
no part. He had an earnest, intelligent, rather serious face, and 
when he laughed, his teeth were white, a rarity among the 

Hannah 173 

men we knew. Strangely enough, he had a sentimental attach- 
ment for his old rabbi. Indeed, we suspected that Mr. Beylin- 
son supplied my father with the mysterious funds that made 
possible such extravagances as Lea's wedding dress. But his 
kindness was not confined to my father alone. He was always 
willing to alleviate misfortune. In that he resembled Hannah, 
and his appreciation of her humane propensities may have 
drawn him to her. He was perhaps the only friend acceptable 
to both sides of the family. 

He would sometimes take Hannah to a concert and ball at 
Pythagoras Hall, and once when I begged hard he took me 
along. That evening Hannah looked radiant in a pink silk 
shirtwaist and long black satin skirt, and Mr. Beylinson 
looked quite handsome in a dark suit and a tall, upstanding 
starched collar with a large bow tie. I could not figure out 
how Hannah obtained her beautiful outfit. There never seemed 
to be an extra quarter around the house. Yet Hannah and 
Molly always managed to look smart when they went out. 
There was a needlewoman in the neighborhood who made 
clothes for the girls for what my mother told my father was 
practically "nothing." Yet the material was of the fashionable 
kind and must have cost something. But if the pink silk shirt- 
waist was an extravagance, Hannah took measures to preserve 
its freshness. She had tied a large white handkerchief around 
her waist, so arranged that it would protect the back of her 
shirtwaist from the perspiring right palms of her dance part- 
ners. Mr. Beylinson was always careful to place his right hand 
squarely on the handkerchief. Not so one or two other men 
who asked my sister for a dance. To these Hannah said po- 
litely: "Lower, please," and, the hand being adjusted, the 
two would solemnly waltz away. Mr. Beylinson' s manner to 
my sister was indulgent and at the same time condescending, 
or perhaps I should say, impersonal. He certainly did not 
behave like a suitor, nor did Hannah show any preference for 
him over Mr. Chaikin. 


Molly was too young to think of marriage, but old enough 
to have beaux. So far there was no question of her being in 
love, and I could look forward to many years of intimate com- 
panionship with her. She was not nearly so kind and good- 
natured as Hannah, and her personality had no spiritual over- 
tones like Hannah's. On the coarser plane of life in a crowded 
ghetto Molly and I enjoyed a community of sympathy and 
interest such as I could never share with Hannah. Her vitality 
was unusual. Like me, she never grew tired. She was impul- 
sive, savagely intolerant of injustice, embarrassingly out- 
spoken, and, like me, prone to laughter. We were both just 
as prone to tears. In fact, almost everything we saw or heard 
made us laugh or cry. The people who came to our house 
either engaged our affections or excited our scorn. We knew 
no moderate emotions. My mother would scold us for "look- 
ing at each other," as, indeed, we did look at each other in the 
presence of those who fell short of our inflexible standards of 
looks and behavior. And very often we would rush out of the 
house to avoid outbursts of derisive laughter we felt we could 
not check. 

On hot summer nights Molly and I would seek relief from 
the heat in Jackson Street Park. The park, innocent of grass 
and trees, was a large asphalted area close to the East River, 
with many lanes of benches for the convenience of visitors 
and a stone pavilion like a Greek temple, where a small 
brass band played occasionally and milk was dispensed at a 
penny a glass. The park was always crowded. The men were 
in their undershirts. The women, more fully dressed, carried 
newspapers for fans. Hordes of barefoot children played 
games, weaving in and out of the always thick mass of 
promenaders. It was on these walks in Jackson Street Park 
that Molly revealed her more serious side. She talked about 
the perpetual schism in our family, about our depressing pov- 
erty and my mother's indulgent attitude toward my father's 
tyrannical behavior. Once she hinted that she and Hannah 

Hannah 175 

were at the breaking-point, especially Hannah, the chief target 
of my father's displeasure. Except for their reluctance to leave 
their mother and me, they were prepared to leave the house 
and set up for themselves. 

It was in Jackson Street Park that Molly imparted a dis- 
turbing piece of news. Hannah, she told me, was in love! I 
braced myself to hear the name of the stranger whose ap- 
pearance I was uneasily expecting. But no stranger had 
appeared. Hannah was in love with Mr. Beylinson! I could 
hardly believe it. Hannah had given no intimation. Molly 
laughed and said that I was only a child. There had been many 
intimations. I was probably the only member of the family 
who hadn't guessed. At any rate, Molly had asked her sister 
point-blank whether she loved Mr. Beylinson, and Hannah, 
caught unaware, had been unable to deny it. 

Molly had no doubt that Mr. Beylinson was fond of Hannah 
and that a little encouragement from her would bring him to 
the point of a direct proposal. What she feared was my 
father's influence over him. My father was certain to oppose 
the marriage for two reasons. First, he would regard such a 
brilliant match as a victory for the "enemy," and, second, 
' Mr. Beylinson married to Hannah might easily lose his senti- 
mental attachment for his old rabbi and withdraw the benefits 
that had gone with it. Molly professed to have noticed omi- 
nous signs of opposition on my father's part, and who could 
tell what he was saying to his former pupil in private? 

Burdened with this intelligence, I began to watch my father 
for those evidences of opposition Molly had remarked. My 
father was seldom direct in undermining what he wished to 
oppose. He was clever at devising secondary annoyances to 
disguise his real objective. If, for example, his aim was to 
punish my mother, he would talk disarmingly about Mrs. 
Reich's devotion to her husband, Zalman, or he would set 
himself against my going to a matinee that cost nothing, and 
would force me to stay home and read the Bible with him. I 


now observed that when Mr. Beylinson was present, my 
father missed no occasion to animadvert, in half-serious 
fashion, on my mother's propensity for extravagance and on 
Molly's idleness on Sundays and holidays. The latter accusa- 
tion would bring Hannah to her sister's defense. And this in 
turn would offer him the opportunity of hinting that Hannah 
herself was not beyond reproach, that the apple does not fall 
far from the tree, and that angelic dispositions often have a 
secret layer of all too human imperfections. And when, of an 
evening, the rest of the family would discreetly retire to the 
front room, leaving Mr. Beylinson and Hannah by themselves 
in the kitchen, my father would make no move to leave, but 
would pretend to be absorbed in one of his religious books. In 
short, it became clear to me that my father had set himself 
against the romance and was doing everything he could to 
prevent its consummation. 

This unavowed campaign against my sister's happiness 
came to a dramatic head one Saturday. It was Hannah's chore 
to set the table for the midday dinner and to place the two 
chalehs (twist breads) in front of my father's place. My 
father had just come from schul (synagogue) and had washed 
his hands and sat down at the table, ready to remove the 
napkin from the chalehs and bless them. But the chalehs were 
not in their accustomed place! What all-absorbing preoccupa- 
tion had caused Hannah to forget the chalehs that fateful 
Saturday I never learned. My father rose from his place, his 
face white with rage. As he had not yet broken his fast, he 
was forbidden by rabbinical injunction to vent his anger in 
speech. Silently, his eyes ablaze, he seized Hannah, dragged 
her to the door, opened it with one hand, shoved her onto the 
landing, and sent her flying pell-mell down the flight of stairs 
to the ground, where she lay dazed, in a heap. My mother, 
hearing the clatter, came running from the kitchen, and Molly 
and I rushed down the stairs and helped Hannah to her feet. 
In a furtive council the four of us held at the bottom of the 

Hannah 177 

stairs, it was decided that Hannah could not return to the 
house, but should go forthwith to Chaie Rive's in Brooklyn. I 
was to accompany her there. Molly went upstairs and fetched 
Hannah's hat, veil, jacket, and pocketbook. 

On our way to Grand Street a resolution was forming in my 
head, and when we were seated in the streetcar I confided it to 
Hannah. I told her I had made up my mind to kill my father. I 
had been harboring thoughts of revenge for a long time, but 
they had been amorphous until that morning. Now 1 saw 
clearly, for the first time, what had to be done. A man who 
was so inhuman to a person as blameless as Hannah must not 
be permitted to live. Nor could I foresee any consequences to 
me as a result of his assassination. I would explain the nature 
of the man to the judge and jury, who would then have no 
alternative but to set me free. They might even extol the 
parricide as an act of divine justice and hold it up as a warning 
to all unfeeling parents. Hannah's reaction to my resolve was 
disappointing. She heard me out gravely; but when I finished 
she smiled and drew me closer to her and said I was foolish to 
have such ideas, that after all he njoas my father, and that I 
must at least wait until I grew up before I could pass judgment 
on him. I replied with some warmth that I saw no virtue in the 
'accident of relationship, else I should love my father's chil- 
dren as much as I loved my mother's, which she well knew I 
couldn't. Her disapproval had no effect on my resolve, and 
soon I found an unexpected ally in Molly, who, when I out- 
lined my plan, showed no surprise and intimated that she had 
independently arrived at the same solution to our troubles. 

On the following morning my mother appeared unexpect- 
edly at Chaie Rive's. She had come to persuade Hannah to 
return home. She told us that my father had calmed down as 
suddenly as he had flared up the day before. She declared that 
his assault on Hannah was inexcusable, yet she thought it 
could perhaps be explained by the fact that he hadn't had a 
morsel to eat since supper the night before, and on top of that 


the absence of the chaleh! . . . Unlike me, Hannah could 
never harbor a grievance for long. Perhaps she felt that she had 
no right to abandon the three of us to my father's uncertain 
temper. The upshot of my mother's visit was that we all 
returned home later in the day. Hannah assumed her old duties 
as if nothing had happened. On Saturday the chalehs were in 
their place on the table, facing my father's chair. My father, 
too, appeared to have quite forgotten the dreadful episode of 
the previous Sabbath. After he had blessed the bread and 
eaten a morsel, he chatted amiably about his friends at the 
synagogue and, as usual, singled out Zalman Reich as the most 
enviable member of the congregation. 

But from then on, Mr. Beylinson's visits to the house grew 
less frequent. Molly was certain that through subtle innuendo 
and calculated misrepresentation my father had finally con- 
vinced Mr. Beylinson that Hannah was not the wife for him. 
Or Mr. Beylinson may have decided against marrying into a 
family so torn with internecine strife as ours. Hannah confided 
in no one, not even in Molly. But Molly could tell by certain 
signs she had learned to interpret that her sister was passing 
through a crisis. On the other hand, the tension at home less- 
ened with Mr. Beylinson's increasing reluctance to visit us. 
My father assumed an air of placid aloofness, and from this 
radical change of behavior Molly surmised that Mr. Beylinson 
was now definitely lost to Hannah. As far as I could ascertain, 
Hannah showed no trace of any disappointment or of what 
Molly called a broken heart. Her solicitude for me even in- 
creased, and her kindness to those who enlisted her help never 

Mr. Beylinson having finally betaken himself from the 
scene, I was not surprised to see Mr. Chaikin, who had for a 
short while succumbed to pessimism, double his visits and 
his efforts to interest Hannah and to charm the rest of the 
household. Molly kept me abreast of the progress he was 
making. Riding on a new wave of prosperity occasioned by 

Hannah 1 79 

the successful efforts of his friend the paint-store owner, who 
had obtained for him a big job of 'Tresco-painting'' in a house 
on the fashionable upper West Side, Mr. Chaikin suddenly 
made a formal application for my sister's hand. My mother, 
eager to see Hannah married before people could learn about 
Mr. Beylinson's defection, had no objections to Mr. Chaikin 
and referred him to Hannah, who, to my utter astonishment, 
accepted him. I could not understand how, loving Mr. 
Beylinson, she could marry Mr. Chaikin! But Molly said she 
understood very well, and she was sure that Hannah would 
forget Mr. Beylinson, once she was married. Furthermore, 
Molly would have approved of any marriage if only for the 
reason that it would liberate Hannah from the tyranny of her 
stepfather and the dissensions of the house. Upon consideration 
I was forced to agree with her. For one thing, her marriage 
would remove at a stroke the necessity for my father's 
assassination. In the placid and genial mood he had assumed, I 
could not slay him in cold blood. And I remembered Hamlet's 
Inability to kill his stepfather for a reason not unlike mine. 
For another, Hannah's marriage assured the continuation of 
the flow of operatic art, if not in our house, then in my sister's 
future abode. And, finally, there was implicit in this marriage 
the assurance that I would not be supplanted in my sister's 
affections, something I could not have taken for granted had 
she married Mr. Beylinson. 

The wedding took place a fortnight later. It was held in 
our front room. Hannah wore her monkey-jacket suit and a 
white shirtwaist. The only other guests besides the members 
of our family were Chaie Rive, her husband, and the twins, 
and Mr. Chaikin's elder brother Morris, whom we saw for the 
first time. Morris Chaikin lived in St. Louis, Missouri (he 
never mentioned the city without adding the state) , where he 
was engaged in the mattress business. His presence in New 
York combined, he said, business and pleasure. Right after the 
refreshments, the couple departed for a week's honeymoon in 


a boarding-house in the Catskills owned by a relation of Mr. 
Chaikin's friend and agent, the paint-store proprietor. I 
could not say that I was jealous of Mr. Chaikin, yet I felt de- 
pressed and could not keep back my tears when I saw Molly 
and my mother crying. Nochum Flayshig began a humorous 
anecdote, but, finding that no one was listening, abandoned it 
in the middle and sat smiling to himself as if in pity for our 
lack of humor. Chaie Rive applied herself to straightening out 
the ringlets of the twins and reminded us that this was an 
occasion for merrymaking, not for sorrow, an opinion that 
she hastened to clinch with an aphorism to the effect that at 
birth one cannot possibly guess what the future will bring. 
This appeared irrefutable, and a silence descended on the 
room. When I could no longer bear the pervasive sadness, I 
ran out into the street to seek relief and forgetfulness in a 
game of "one-o'-cat." 


usiness Affairs 


f fmi 

r HILE each marriage in our family left us with a 
roomier apartment and an extra blanket, it also resulted in a 
tighter economy. Hannah had been the chief support of the 
household (Molly stubbornly reserved a large percentage of 
her earnings for her own use), and her departure brought a 
financial crisis to the family. All my mother could now count 
on were Molly's modest contribution and my father's meager 
and erratic earnings. Sarah was not yet fourteen, and there- 
fore could not be legally sent out to work. 

To meet our new emergency, the first thing to do was to 
find a cheaper apartment. Many such were available, but they 
were "in the back," facing a great network of clotheslines and 
immodestly close to the windows of the rear apartments of 
the tenements opposite ours. My mother found a first-floor 
apartment u in the back" in a house on Rutgers Place which 
faced the livery stable I knew so well. I missed the view I had 
loved for some two years. I could no longer see from my 
window the meeting of four busy streets and the long stretch 


of East Broadway to its vanishing-point where it merged 
with Grand Street. Gone from view was R. Hoe, Inc., with its 
sky-piercing clock tower. Of course East Broadway was only 
a few blocks away from Rutgers Place, and for a few weeks 
after our removal I visited it daily and looked up longingly at 
our old front windows in number 157. But my appetite for 
this sentimental pilgrimage dwindled as I entered more and 
more into the life of Rutgers Place. I soon joined the Rutgers 
Streeters and espoused its enmities and alliances happily the 
Rutgers Streeters and my old gang, the East Broadwayers, 
were on friendly terms, so that I was not obliged to make war 
on my former comrades. 

Our next step toward improving our financial situation was 
a bold invasion of the realm of trade. My mother had noticed 
the increasing tendency of housewives to spare themselves the 
labor of cooking by patronizing the delicatessen store. Origi- 
nally a German institution, the delicatessen store reached the 
East Side through the agency of the reassuring word "kosher." 
Kosher delicatessen stores soon appeared on every street, and 
kosher sausage factories sprang up to supply them and to 
encourage the creation of new stores by offering to provide 
store fixtures on a long-term installment arrangement and to 
extend credit on an equally generous scale. Children took to 
delicatessen for its spiciness, preferring it to the bland, boiled 
meats their mothers served at home. Elderly people still 
frowned on delicatessen and clung to their accustomed boiled 
and sweet-and-sour meats, but they were powerless to attack 
the pickled viands on religious grounds. Even my father, while 
himself eschewing delicatessen, had no doubts about the 
orthodoxy of the rabbinical supervision under which it was 

It occurred to my mother one day that the proprietorship of 
a delicatessen store was our best hope for financial security. 
Two obstacles immediately presented themselves: my father's 
opposition (an automatic first reaction to any suggestion put 

Business Affairs 1 8 3 

out by my mother) and our complete lack of money. My 
father stated categorically that there was no future in delica- 
tessen and that what my mother saw as a trend was only a 
temporary deviation from normal Jewish eating habits. He 
also pointed out that the best restaurants (the one at 1 59 East 
Broadway was a good example) offered a "regular dinner'' 
of no less than six courses for fifteen cents, which, while not 
cheap, was certainly for bulk and quality a better buy than 
fifteen cents' worth of delicatessen. My mother replied that 
only a housewife could have an authoritative opinion on the 
future of delicatessen. She also reminded him that his prognos- 
tications had in the past always proved wrong. He was, she 
said, by nature too conservative and pessimistic to understand 
the power of imagination when backed by persistence. Had 
she taken his advice, they never would have found Mr. Harris 
in London. And if they hadn't found him they would not now 
be in New York. 

My father's objections were more easily disposed of than 
the chief obstacle, our lack of money. After exhaustive in- 
quiries in delicatessen circles, my mother reported that the 
Mandlebaum Sausage Factory on Houston Street was pre- 
pared to contribute a part of the fixtures to the proposed store 
and to extend credit for merchandise for a period of three 
months. There were delicatessen stores for sale in the neigh- 
borhood, but the prices asked were far above anything my 
mother could contrive to borrow. It was cheaper to rent a 
store and start one's own business. Taking into account the 
fixtures proffered by Mandlebaum and the offer of a loan of a 
soda-water fountain by a manufacturer of carbonated water, 
my mother arrived at the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars 
as sufficient to launch the venture. 

It was a staggering sum to raise, and my father wished to 
be informed how she proposed to raise it. "Mr. Beylinson," 
my mother said succinctly. We had not seen Mr. Beylinson 
at our house since some time before Hannah's marriage. But 


we suspected that my father saw him frequently at his ice- 
cream factory. After pooh-poohing the suggestion, my father 
wanted to know just what guarantee he could offer Mr. Bey- 
linson that the loan, if granted, would be repaid. "Give him," 
my mother promptly replied, "a receipt." That seemed to 
settle the matter. I knew that a receipt was a decisive docu- 
ment. Our landlord gave us one each month. My father, how- 
ever, received the suggestion without enthusiasm, though he 
agreed to speak to his pupil about a loan. My mother was so 
sure of my father's influence over Mr. Beylinson that she went 
at once to Mandlebaum's factory and made final arrangements 
with the manager for the extension of credit and the installa- 
tion of store fixtures. She rented a vacant store in the building 
we lived in. And days before Mr. Beylinson handed my father 
the one hundred and fifty dollars in (for some reason) one- 
dollar bills (and impressive they looked as my mother counted 
them out carefully with the aid of a continually wet thumb) , 
the store had been swept and a vanload of fixtures and tables 
and chairs had cluttered up its length, waiting to be put in 

Mannie Kalb came over on Sunday morning and lettered the 
plate-glass window in masterly fashion. The letters were 
huge, in black with strong white borders around them. Shaped 
like an arc, the first line read: 

And underneath, in straight lines: 




Business Affairs 1 8 5 

The final item was a concession to my father, who thought it 
might attract people accustomed to eating in restaurants. 
Secretly my mother had no faith in its drawing power, for she 
made no preparations for serving "regular" dinners. But she 
assured my father that she was capable of handling any cus- 
tomer who might require a "regular" meal. Nor was she 
boasting. On several occasions I saw her successfully steer a 
"regular dinner" customer away from his expectation of ap- 
petizer, soup, fish, boiled meat, dessert, and tea and cake to a 
plate of corned beef or pastrami and a schooner of raspberry 
soda to top it off! 

The day finally arrived for the "Grand Opening." Grand 
openings on the East Side were conducted on a standardized 
pattern, and ours had the usual features. For all its familiarity 
it was, nevertheless, an exciting event. A week before, Mannie 
had painted on a large piece of cardboard: "GRAND OPENING 
JULY 5." The sign, resting on an improvised cardboard easel, 
was placed ostentatiously in the store window. On the morn- 
ing of the great day a large wicker basket with artificial 
flowers arrived, the gift of Mr. Beylinson. We knew Mr. 
Beylinson had sent it, though the painted inscription on the 
silk ribbon tied in a bow on the handle said only: "Best 
Wishes From A Friend." Who else but Mr. Beylinson could 
afford such an expensive gift? My mother placed the basket in 
the center of the window and grouped around it many chunks 
of uncooked corned beef and pastrami. Viewed from the street 
it made an impressive picture, and along with the two dozen 
long, hard salamis hung by cords from the window ceiling, 
this grouping of flowers and food attracted the attention of 
passers-by from morning till night. In fact the window-shop- 
pers were so numerous that the customers (disappointingly 
few) had difficulty in making their way through the crowds 

Inside, the store looked fetching indeed! The salami motif, 
so effective in the window, was also carried out in the counter 


display. Separated from customers by a low glass partition, 
the counter bristled with bisected salamis, hard and soft, and 
bolognas thick and thin. My mother, flanked by an ex- 
perienced young man the Mandlebaum firm had obligingly 
delegated to assist at the grand opening, stood behind the 
counter, knife in hand, filling the orders rapidly, like a veteran 
delicatessen-store owner. Behind her on a ledge lay tall stacks 
of slices of rye bread, and next to them stood an enormous jar 
of soft, soup-like, bright golden mustard. My mother dis- 
pensed sandwiches, taking care to cut the corned beef, 
pastrami, or salami paper-thin, as she had been taught to do 
by the Mandlebaum young man, who himself concentrated on 
"plate" orders for the occupants of tables. Sometimes as she 
"closed" a sandwich with a top slice of bread a customer 
would protest against the meager ratio of meat to bread and 
my mother would reopen the sandwich and add a slice or two, 
and with a smile say that she was grateful for all suggestions. 
Also at the suggestion of the young man from Mandlebaum's, 
my mother had invited a dozen friends and relatives to sit as 
guests at the three tables that lined the wall of the store. She 
had cautioned them to behave in all respects like customers, to 
order what they wanted (within reason, of course), and to 
send substitutes when they themselves had business else- 
where, for the tables had to look at all times quite filled. My 
father for reasons of pride (it was easy to justify his wife's 
venture into delicatessen, but a respected teacher of Hebrew 
who was preparing for the career of rabbi could hardly do 
more with propriety than lend his name to it) kept himself 
aloof, walking up and down the opposite side of the street to 
note, unobserved, the success or failure of the grand opening. 
When lunch time arrived at noon, business took a spurt. 
People who worked on our street came in for a sandwich, a 
pickle, and a glass of soda water, or bought a few cents' worth 
of meat and bread to take out. When a few customers, de- 
siring a more elaborate meal, went toward the tables, some 

Business Affairs 1 8 7 

of the seated relatives exhibited embarrassment and looked to 
my mother for guidance, some even rising as if to leave. These 
my mother subdued with significant glances, and they sank 
back in their chairs. My mother was quite willing to take a 
loss on this day for the sake of a future gain, for the rumor 
would soon get around that the new delicatessen store was 
such a success that not a table was ever to be had. 

The store hours were from seven a.m. to midnight. My 
father came in at closing-time by the back door and watched 
my mother count up the day's receipts. The gross was about 
fifteen dollars, and the net, after much figuring, came to six. 
My mother had reason to feel elated. A grand opening offered 
no financial yardstick; but she felt that if the business eased 
off to ten dollars gross per day, which meant a profit of four 
dollars, or twenty-four dollars a week, the sum would more 
than fill the financial loss occasioned by Hannah's marriage. 
Faced with the concrete proof of an actual day's profit, my 
father admitted that he might have been overpessimistic 
about the venture. At the same time he complained that he had 
had nothing to eat all day but a roll and a saucer of cream. My 
mother assured him that she would find time to prepare a hot 
meal for themselves every day. And if all went as well as she 
hoped, she might even hire someone to tend store mornings till 
noon. This would enable her to clean our apartment, cook 
and serve dinner, and wash up afterwards. 

With a wealth of delicatessen available at all hours, I failed 
to understand my father's preference for home cooking. I 
abandoned myself without restraint to the food in our store. 
For lunch I alternated between "plates" of corned beef, 
pastrami, and large bologna. The large bologna, though a 
coarser meat, was especially good between draughts of 
sarsaparilla out of a schooner. When school let out at three 
o'clock, I made straight for our store and made myself a sand- 
wich extravagantly bursting with many slices of quite un- 
penetrable salami buried under a thick coating of the yellowish 


mustard. Salami called for a schooner of raspberry soda. For 
supper I selected slices of several meats, which I heaped high 
on a plate and ate with a large pickle and several acid pickled 
tomatoes. I was permitted to wait on customers, and I fre- 
quently released my mother to her household chores upstairs. 
I learned to slice salami, tongue, and bologna paper-thin (when 
I served myself, the slices came out thicker), and I managed 
to eat a morsel at every sale I made. 

In the rear of the store was a large, sunless room, with a 
long slit of a window, heavily barred. This was my mother's 
room of all work, where she cooked the corned beefs, tongues, 
and pastramis in a tin clothes-boiler over a three-burner gas 
stove. When she lifted the lid of the boiler, the fatty, bubbling 
water spilled over on the floor, and the delicious, aggressive 
aroma of superheated pickled beef would mingle with and 
soon overpower the prevailing insistent, native, musty, dank 
smell of perspiring, decaying paint and plaster. As clouds of 
steam burst from the boiler and rushed to the ceiling, my 
mother plunged a great iron fork into the submerged chunks of 
beef and, finding the flesh unresisting, she raised them one by 
one out of the caldron and carried them, steaming and drip- 
ping, quickly into the store. There she deposited them on the 
counter and with a large sharp knife proceeded to pare away 
as little of the surrounding fat as she could get away with, 
for most customers eschewed fat and resolutely demanded its 
excision, notwithstanding my mother's Insistence that so ex- 
travagant paring would take all her profit out of the transac- 
tion. The sight and smell of the meat by now the knife had 
exposed to view the rosy, corrugated, succulent fibers behind 
the protective gray coating of fat generally proved too much 
for me. I might have only just finished my lunch or dinner or 
an afternoon snack, but I would plead for, and always get, a 
slice, which I dispatched clean, without the leavening inter- 
vention of a slice of bread. Such was my pleasant, exclusive 
diet for the nine months' life of our delicatessen store. Fre- 

Business Affairs 189 

quent intestinal discomfort, which kept me in bed for short 
periods, failed to curb my enthusiasm for delicatessen, pickles, 
pickled tomatoes, mustard, and soda water, and I always re- 
turned to the store with my appetite sharpened by deprivation. 
The nine months were so packed with adventure that they 
passed quicker than other periods of the same duration before 
and after. Aside from the pleasures of eating and drinking, I 
loved to tend store, and I learned to be expert in handling the 
variety of knives on the counter and in guessing exactly how 
many slices of meat would register a quarter, a half, or a 
pound on the scales. The soda fountain was an unceasing 
fascination, and I never without a feeling of surprise and 
pleasure reversed the lever that released a sharp needle-like 
spray to agitate and bring to a foam the schooner of soda. I sold 
cigarettes too, mostly singly for a penny, and handing them 
over the counter gave me a sense of being grown up. I would 
keep my mother company until closing-time at midnight, 
often against her wishes. I hung around, not for any help I 
could be (customers were few between seven and twelve 
p.m.), but for the satisfaction of being in the store, inhaling 
the delicious confusion of smells, and watching in the large 
mirror behind the counter the reflection of the tables and 
chairs and the advertisements of Mandlebaum's products, and 
even of things the store did not carry, like Passover wine, 
matzoth, and Brown's Celery Tonic. I presume we did not 
dispense Brown's Celery Tonic, which was a favorite drink 
in the neighborhood, because it was bottled, and the margin 
of profit from it would be less than that of the syrup and car- 
bonated water we sold at the soda fountain. (I was to revel 
in the celery taste and aroma of Brown's Tonic some years 
later.) The mirror also reflected a placard on the wall urging 
people to drink "Moxie," and showing a dapper young clerk 
in white, with sleek black hair parted mathematically in the 
middle, pointing a commanding forefinger and looking at one 
directly, and rather threateningly. We served, alas, no Moxie, 


which, as depicted on the card, looked deliciously dark and 

My mother always resorted to boiling water in our unceas- 
ing war on vermin. Neighbors argued the merits of popular 
bedbug and cockroach powders, but my mother, who had in 
her time tried everything, put her trust in a kettle of hot water. 
In the summer she would devote an entire evening to bed- 
bugs. Every coil of her own bedspring and the iron folding 
bed would be penetrated by a spurt of boiling water and the 
vermin would fall to the floor, zigzag crazily for a moment, 
and suddenly stiffen into extinction. She would even pour 
water on the buttons of her mattress and cover it with the oil- 
cloth from the table at bedtime. Nor was she content with half 
measures in dealing with lice. Most mothers of the neighbor- 
hood would sit of a summer evening on the steps of their 
stoops, patiently exploring the heads of their children and 
deftly extracting the vermin and crushing them between the 
nails of their thumbs. But my mother periodically subjected 
my head and my little sister's to whole kettles of water 
heated to a temperature we were barely able to endure. And 
where everybody else examined the seams of their underwear 
for lice nightly on going to bed, my mother adopted the 
(more) preventive measure of doing the family wash (in 
scalding water) as often as twice a week! 

The delicatessen store was closed from sundown Friday to 
sundown Saturday. One Saturday afternoon there was a 
knock at the door of our apartment upstairs, and a tall man 
wearing a dark suit and a derby hat came in. In a mild voice he 
announced that the store had been robbed. The robbery, he 
said, must have occurred during the night. The lock of the 
back door had been broken, and the thieves had denuded the 
place of every edible thing. We hastily went down to the 
store with him and found that our informant had not exag- 
gerated. Not a salami was left hanging in the windows, nor 
had the thieves left so much as a slice of large or small bologna. 

Business Affairs 1 9 1 

Gone were the half-new jars of pickles and even the enormous 
jar of mustard. 

The strange man showed us the extent of our losses like a 
cicerone leading a party through a point of historic interest. 
He then said that his name was Mac and that he was a private 
detective, and he offered to protect the premises for a fee of 
two dollars a week. I translated the proposition to my parents. 
Seeing my mother hesitate, Mac told me to tell her that he was 
well acquainted with the thieves of the district and was in a 
position to guarantee absolute protection. My mother, he said, 
was at liberty to take or leave his offer; but if she did not en- 
gage his services he was sure that robberies like the one that 
had just taken place would become a commonplace. Mac spoke 
suavely, in a low, engaging voice. My mother looked him over 
while I translated his words; then she abruptly told me to say 
that he was hired. On hearing this, Mac tipped his derby hat 
politely and told us that from that moment on, our worries 
were over. 

The robbery, it was computed, set us back about fifty dol- 
lars. If it had taken place the following Monday, when we ex- 
pected the delivery of a very large order from Mandlebaum's, 
the loss would have been nearly double that. There was noth- 
ing for it but to get another loan from Mr. Beylinson. The 
moment being critical, my father did not, for once, demur. 
And on Monday morning before the new order arrived, he 
called on his old pupil at the ice-cream factory and obtained 
the fifty dollars. The store was duly replenished that very 
day. My father even professed to see the hand of providence 
in the extraordinary coincidence of the appearance of the 
private detective on our street on the very morning of the 
robbery. He could also read an assurance of power in Mac's 
gentle, persuasive manner. And, indeed, Mac was as good as 
his word, for we did not have another robbery in the two or 
three months he protected the store. During that time he would 
visit us nearly every day around supper time, sometimes bring- 


ing along a friend or two. They would all sit down at a table 
and Mac would play host generously, ordering large platefuls 
of corned beef, his favorite among all the meats. We never 
charged him anything, for he assured us at the outset that he 
enjoyed the full hospitality of those of his clients who owned 
eating establishments, and he gently offered to have his meals 
elsewhere if we preferred, as, of course, we didn't. 

I found Mac and his friends very entertaining. They talked 
a good deal about politics, especially in relation to local mat- 
ters. One afternoon Mac arrived in a moving- van and craved 
permission to store some things for a few days in the back 
room. Before I could translate his request to my mother, two 
men began carrying oblong crates into the store, with Mac 
gently but confidently directing the operation. I recognized 
the objects as ballot boxes of the sort I had seen in voting 
places, and on my expressing interest Mac laughingly told 
me he was playing a joke on a judge, an old friend of his; that 
the boxes were, indeed, full of ballots as a result of an election 
that had just been concluded, that he was playfully holding up 
the count, and that he would return the boxes in a few days 
and disclose to his friend the prank he had played on him. In 
conclusion Mac hoped I would keep his secret, which, nat- 
urally, I did. Some days later the same van drew up and the 
boxes were taken away. Mac reported that on hearing the 
trick that had been played on him his friend the judge had 
been vastly amused. But a week later Mac disappeared as 
mysteriously as he had arrived. We never saw him again, and 
all our inquiries around the neighborhood failed to throw any 
light whatsoever on him or his whereabouts. 


Freedom Method 



.HE delicatessen store failed to realize our hopes. 
After the initial flurry of the opening day, it settled down to a 
disappointing net profit of about six dollars a week, with slight 
fluctuations on one side or the other. My father, too, was 
earning less than usual, for he now gave a good deal of his 
time to the rabbinical studies mandatory for future shochets 
and mohels. I was by now a big boy often, and what with my 
piano lessons, music books, clothing, and shoes I was and I 
realized I was a drain on the family economy. Because I 
spent most of my time on the streets in games and in the more 
belligerent activities of my gang, I was very hard on clothes 
and especially on shoes. Hardly a week went by without a 
visit to the cobbler. Even the iron guards he nailed on toes and 
heels wore to razor-thinness within a few days. I felt I had to 
do something both in the way of retrenchment and in that of 


earning some money. Retrenchment suddenly became possible 
through the fortuitous appearance of a lady who moved into 
the third-floor front of our tenement and pasted up a printed 
card in the entrance hall reading: * 'Madam Zamoshkin, 
Teacher of Piano and Voice." 

The day she moved in I watched a beautiful upright piano 
being carried up the three flights by four men. This operation, 
which I aided in spirit from a position close behind the movers, 
caused me agonies of concern for the safety of the instrument, 
which, like some huge, timid creature resenting exposure, 
seemed bent on self-destruction. Later that day I went out on 
our landing and heard the piano being played upstairs in ac- 
companiment to a loud and acid soprano voice. When the 
song was finished, I ran up the two flights and knocked at the 
Zamoshkins' door. Mrs. Zamoshkin herself opened it and 
asked me what I wanted; and when I told her I was a pianist 
and lived on the first floor, she invited me in. She was a big 
woman, with a heavy bosom that rebelled against the confining 
ribs of a corset showing through a fashionable-looking, trans- 
parent, dirty silk dressing-gown she had on. There were no 
buttons on the gown, nor any other visible mechanism to keep 
it from flying open, which it repeatedly did, revealing a dirty 
white petticoat edged at the bottom with coarse brown lace. 
When the flaps of the gown separated, Mrs. Zamoshkin said: 
"Pardonne verzeihe excuse, please," in a husky, languid 
voice, at the same time covering herself modestly. She asked 
me how long and with whom I had studied, and invited me to 
play a piece. I chose The Alpine Shepherd's Evening Song, 
which I played with the utmost expressiveness. Mrs. Zamosh- 
kin had lit a cigarette (I had never before seen a woman 
smoke) and sat near me. When I finished she said, again set- 
ting to rights the unruly dressing-gown: "Zamitchalnya" 
("Beautiful," in Russian), "sehr gut!" She got up and knocked 
at the door of an adjoining room. "Cheri" she called in a soft, 
haunting, elegant tone of voice which made me experience a 

The Freedom Method 195 

sensation I could not Identify as ever having felt before, one 
that I found simultaneously disturbing and pleasant: "Darling 
may I disturb you for a minute?" The door opened and a 
young man came into the room. He looked pale and not very 
well. He was tall, thin, and sandy-haired, and had a long, sharp 
nose. He was heavily dressed, though it was summer. A large 
muffler was wound twice around his throat. "Sonza" ("Sun," 
or "Pretty one"), she said, and she smiled deprecatingly as 
her gown separated again and she made haste to arrange it 
properly. "Did you hear this child? Zamitchalnya n*est~ce- 
fas?" The young man echoed the Russian word in a weary 
voice. "This is Grisha my husband," Mrs. Zamoshkin said 
with pride, and I rose from the piano stool and offered my 
hand. The young man, to my embarrassment, refused to take 
it. Instead he turned slowly around and without a word went 
into his room and closed the door behind him. "Cover your 
throat, angel," she called after him. 

Mrs. Zamoshkin explained that her husband was a poet and 
didn't have much time to spare, being at that very moment en- 
gaged in the creation of a cycle of gypsy poems, which she 
was setting to music. She went to the piano and sang and 
played one of them, and I recognized the very one I had heard 
from my landing. The poem was in Russian, and Mrs. 
Zamoshkin obligingly translated a line for me. It was a wild, 
rhapsodical poem, the sense of which eluded me. But I ap- 
preciated the effectiveness of its insistent refrain, which came 
after every second line and addressed the gypsy directly. 
"Tara-ra-ra-ta-ra-ra-ra" was the meter of the Russian lines, 
and then the refrain: "Ho! Gypsy! Ha! Gypsy! Hey! Gypsy! 
Hi! Gypsy!" Mrs. Zamoshkin' s voice was uncommonly stri- 
dent, and at one point her husband put his head out of his 
door and said: "I thought you were finished with that one!" 
She threw him a warm smile and said: "Yes, I wanted 
Dushinka" ("Darling" meaning me) "to hear it." The song 
cycle would comprise six numbers, she confided to me, each 


one dealing with a different phase of gypsy life. She was look- 
ing around for a publisher. Whoever took the songs was bound 
to make a fortune, for the passion of the verses would excite 
the blood and imagination of the most sluggish purchaser. I 
therefore recommended Mr. Katz of East Broadway, hoping 
thus to show him my gratitude for his kindness to me in the 
past year. 

Mrs. Zamoshkin then went into my own situation. Her 
opinion of my playing was most flattering, but she thought the 
time had arrived for me to tackle a more ambitious repertoire 
than the one I had studied. Her own piano method was a 
revolutionary one, and under it her pupils had made brilliant 
progress. She described this method in one word: "Freedom!" 
she said, and the word rang out impressively violent. "My 
method is liberty! A teacher should not be a jailer. He should 
be a liberator. What difference can it make, Dushinka?" 
(here her dressing-gown, agitated by a sweeping gesture of her 
left arm toward the piano keys, opened wide and forced me to 
look away for a moment). "What difference, I ask you 
seriously " she had retrieved the loosened flap of the gar- 
ment "whether you hold your hands high or low? Is that the 
important thing? I ask you, and I want you to answer me 
honestly and frankly is that the important thing?" I shook 
my head dubiously. It certainly could not be important. Had I 
wasted a year in slavishly taking the fingers suggested by the 
composers in their printed works, or by Miss Taffel? Mrs. 
Zamoshkin saw me waver, and pressed her advantage. "Does a 
bird take lessons in flying? Does someone tell her to use the 
right and not the left wing? All she needs is freedom! Release 
her from the cage and she will fly away, never mind how! It's 
the same with people. They have been tied and bound with 
laws, with institutions, like ropes. They have been tied from 
head to foot by governments, presidents, tsars, priests, rab- 
bis" (I blanched at the word "rabbis," for I had lately 
wondered about them in respect to their insistence on im- 

The Freedom Method 197 

posing their beliefs on everybody, especially the young). Mrs. 
Zamoshkio continued: "Take love" stretching toward me a 
cupped hand as if love, like a nesting bird, was in it, her voice 
rising to an unpleasant pitch. 

Her husband put his head out and said wearily: "Such 
noise! How can one work?" and disappeared. Mrs. Zamoshkin 
lowered her voice to a hoarse whisper. "I ask you to consider 
love! What have they done to love your priests, your rabbis, 
your governments? They have tied it hand and foot with mar- 
riage. When I told you Grisha was my husband, I was using a 
word meant for slaves. Yes, he is my husband. But he is 
more!" Again the husband poked his head through the door. 
This time he said nothing, but he looked at his wife threat- 
eningly. "All right, all right, Golubchick (Dove)," she cried 
as he again vanished, "I'll be quiet." Then to me hoarsely: 
"Artists need quiet. The soul needs silence. Someday you will 
understand. But how can they get silence in a city? The noise 
of the horse-cars the screaming of children the barrel- 
organs . . ." Mrs. Zamoshkin went on in this manner for 
some time, during which I learned that she had been a pupil 
of a pupil of somebody called "the Great Anton Rubinstein," 
who, it was well known, had never practiced just played 
sometimes missing notes, but what of that! Also that she had 
met her husband five years previously in Russia, that they had 
fallen in love instantaneously and had eloped to America, 
that there was a slight difference in their ages "but love 
laughs at time" that poetry did not pay, and that she was the 
sole support of the house. Furthermore, Mr. Zamoshkin was 
frail, subject to colds, and altogether unworldly. "If left to 
himself," she confided, "he would be unable to boil a kettle 
of water for tea he would perish." Each time I politely rose 
to go, Mrs. Zamoshkin had some fascinating detail of her life 
to relate. However, the practical upshot of my visit was that 
I was to leave Miss Taffel and accept a scholarship from Mrs. 
Zamoshkin (I told her I was in no position at the moment to 


pay for my lessons), provided that I would give myself whole- 
heartedly to her "Freedom" method in piano-playing. 

The more I thought of the benefits of the "Freedom" 
method, the more I considered my meeting with Mrs. Zamosh- 
kin providential. I saw ahead of me a limitless repertoire of 
music which would be mine without drudgery of fingerwork 
and long hours of practice. I explained the new method to my 
mother and Molly and paid a visit to Hannah to acquaint her 
with it. They did not quite grasp Mrs. Zamoshkin' s phi- 
losophy of piano-playing, but confessed that they were in no 
position to judge it. Hannah thought I had a duty to Miss 
Taffel, and that I must not mention Mrs. Zamoshkin or the 
"Freedom" method to her, but tell her that I could no longer 
raise the money for lessons. That, Hannah said, would give 
Miss TafFel the chance to proffer a scholarship. Knowing Miss 
Taffel's disposition well by then, I had no fears that she would 
offer me free tuition. And so it proved. For after I had my 
next lesson I told her I could no longer study with her, plead- 
ing poverty. Miss Taffel said she was sorry, but I would have 
to find another teacher. I left the basement much relieved 
and went straight to Mrs. Zamoshkin. 

Mrs. Zamoshkin held that the "Freedom" method carried 
with it for the pupil the privilege of choosing the music to be 
studied. Seeing me at a loss for the moment, Mrs. Zamoshkin 
suggested the overture to Poet and Peasant, the music of which 
stood on the music rack of the piano. I was taken with the title 
and readily acceded; but when I opened the music, I saw that 
it bristled with unusual technical problems and several time 
changes. Mrs. Zamoshkin laughed away my fears and offered 
to play the overture for me to prove how easy it was. "People 
pay too much attention to notes," she said, as she composed 
her large frame and her dressing-gown (she dressed fully only 
when she went out), "and not enough to the spirit. The great 
Anton Rubinstein always played wrong notes and nobody 
cared. Why? Because he always brought out the soul of music. 

The Freedom Method 199 

Anybody can play the right notes, but how many can bring 
out the Soul!" 

Mrs. Zarnoshkin played the overture daringly and reck- 
lessly, I thought. I turned the pages. In my eagerness to keep 
up with her I sometimes turned a page too soon or too late. 
My teacher never paused or hesitated, but composed a few 
measures of her own on the spot. As I listened and watched 
the music at the same time, I realized that the impromptu 
interpolations had a wild, gypsy character that contrasted 
violently with the more classic style of the overture itself. 
How closely she had modeled herself on the art of the great 
Anton Rubinstein! For she quite disregarded, for the most 
part, the printed notes, especially in intricate or rapid pas- 
sages! In the slower, lyric sections, she brought out what I 
presumed was the soul. On these she lingered, caressing some 
notes by raising and depressing her wrist, while her face as- 
sumed a pained expression and she shook her head ecstatically, 
as if the beauty of the moment was too much for her to bear. 
When she arrived at the last page she pressed the loud pedal 
down and kept her foot on it remorselessly, and with flashing 
arms and fingers let loose a babel of sound such as I had never 
before heard. Though it had little relation to the notes on the 
page, it was a stirring finale in itself, and when it was over I 
saw that Mrs. Zamoshkin's face was triumphant, though 
covered with sweat. "You may have noticed," she gasped, 
wiping her face with a large handkerchief edged with torn, 
black lace, "that I left out some of the notes. But I didn't leave 
out the souls of the Poet and Peasant! No! That I didn't." 
To this I assented, though it seemed to me she had been more 
successful with the soul of the Poet than with that of the 

In the half year that I studied with Mrs. Zamoshkin I 
"interpreted" at least two dozen compositions, most of them 
transcriptions of orchestral works or arias and songs. Mrs. 
Zamoshkin denied the existence of pianistic difficulties or, at 


any rate, treated them summarily when she herself met them. 
When I found that I was unable to negotiate certain passages, 
she would tell me to regard the spirit, not the letter, and, 
brushing me off the piano stool, would demonstrate how to 
achieve the one without engaging the other. The effects she 
conveyed were always dramatic. They excited in me a kind of 
uneasy admiration for her self-confidence and daring. I learned 
to rely on the loud pedal in critical technical moments, and 
while the results were unclear, Mrs. Zamoshkin soothed my 
doubts by admiring the "impression" I had created with 
seemingly recalcitrant notes. As for octaves, thirds, sixths, 
arpeggios, and all the other problems of piano-playing, Mrs. 
Zamoshkin called them "a bag of tricks" for the amusement of 
the superficial, but promised that if I really wanted to acquire 
them they would come to me of themselves easily with age 
and experience. In the meantime I must not feel intimidated 
when the music called for them, but do the best I could. 

The news of the "Freedom method" spread quickly in the 
neighborhood, and Mrs. Zamoshkin was soon besieged by 
pupils, both beginners who looked forward to a speedy con- 
quest of "pieces" without much practicing and students of the 
piano who had hitherto believed that one had to work hard 
to master the instrument and were delighted to find they had 
been quite wrong, and that "methods" existed that dispensed 
with the drudgery of work. Mrs. Zamoshkin was charging 
twenty-five cents a lesson. Notwithstanding this high fee, she 
was quickly making inroads among the students of teachers 
like Miss TafFel, who charged only ten cents and offered an 
hour's practice time. 

I enjoyed the distinction of being her only scholarship pupil, 
and indeed 1 came to be regarded as a member of her house- 
hold. She continually played and sang her settings of her hus- 
band's gypsy songs for me, gave me tea and "broken cake," 
and made me a confidant of everything that appertained to her 
husband and herself. She loved Mr. Zamoshkin inordinately 

The Freedom Method 201 

as both her husband and her "child," as she called him, ex- 
plaining that she had never had a child of her own, and that 
her husband, because of his youth and temperamental nature, 
was in many respects a child to her. Certainly no child I had 
known was ever so indulged and coddled. There was hardly 
a moment when Mrs. Zamoshkin was not preparing some- 
thing for him to drink or eat, and in the middle of a lesson 
she would say: "Keep right on playing, dear, while I boil 
some milk for Grisha." Mr. Zamoshkin kept to his room 
mostly, and I saw him only at such times as he would put his 
head out to complain about something. It was a mystery to 
me how he managed to write his poems amid the never-ending 
sound of lessons and practice. He wrote only in Russian, con- 
sidering the English language harsh and unmusical, and Yid- 
dish hopelessly vulgar. Mrs. Zamoshkin called him a genius 
and prophesied that someday his works would be published 
and he would be recognized as another Nekrassov or Lermon- 
tov. I shared Mrs. Zamoshkin' s indignation at the neglect her 
gifted husband was enduring, for my own efforts to have Mr. 
Katz publish the gypsy songs had come to nothing. Mr. Katz, 
to my astonishment, did not find the gypsy poems and their 
musical setting "real." They seemed real enough to me. In- 
deed, they had a savagery that invoked gypsies of the hottest 
blood imaginable. 

Besides saving money on piano lessons, I was put in the way 
of earning a substantial sum through the kindness of Mr. Katz. 
Perhaps he wished to atone for his rejection of the gypsy 
songs by doing something handsome for me. One day when I 
went in to pay him an installment on the money I owed him 
for music, he told me that Cantor Feinstein a great name on 
the East Side was holding auditions for choirboys, and that 
the pay for those boys who were accepted would be two dol- 
lars and a half for the Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur holi- 
days. I lost no time in getting to the basement of the Madison 
Street Synagogue, where the auditions were being held. I had a 


flexible alto voice, and I read music easily at sight. After a 
short test I was engaged. For six weeks before the holidays 
we had lengthy rehearsals after school. The music of the 
choir, in four-part harmony, was craftily integrated with the 
solos of the cantor, and required a great deal of practice on the 
part of the choir both alone and in conjunction with the cantor. 
I enjoyed these rehearsals very much, especially those with 
the cantor, whose flights of coloratura were breath-taking. 
While his voice soared away into the topmost reaches of the 
vocal scale in a hazardous display of trills, runs, and scales, 
like an acrobat doing impossible feats on a high trapeze, we 
would sustain beautiful solid chords underneath his daring 
flights. The cantor had written the music himself, and had 
most sensibly provided himself with moments of rest. During 
these the choir held forth with ordinary diversionary passages, 
so as not to erase from the minds of the congregation the more 
important virtuoso contribution of the cantor. 

Three or four days before Rosh Hashonah, one of the older 
choirboys called a secret meeting at the fountain on Rutgers 
Place. When we had all assembled, he got up on one of the 
stone benches and addressed us. He told us that the Madison 
Street Synagogue was raising the price of tickets for the holi- 
days, mainly to meet the increased demands of our cantor for a 
higher fee. Why shouldn't we, he asked, share in this raise? 
The cantor couldn't do without us. Furthermore, we had 
worked very hard, and our expert support would contribute 
to his success. Our leader therefore proposed that we go to 
the cantor at once and ask for a fifty-cent raise. Should the 
cantor refuse, we must be prepared to strike. 

The suggestion was put to a vote and unanimously ap- 
proved. The cantor, realizing that the imminence of the holi- 
days would not give him time to form a new choir, reluctantly 
acceded. And on Yom Kippur night I triumphantly brought 
home three one-dollar bills, the first money I had ever earned. 
Though the day had been long and there were moments when 

The Freedom Method 203 

my head grew light from lack of food I found a great satis- 
faction in singing with the most celebrated cantor in America 
and in wearing the shiny skullcap and beautiful silk tallis 
(prayer shawl) the cantor lent to his choirboys. Furthermore, 
I saw at first hand the splendors of a "temple," for the Madi- 
son Street Synagogue was a far cry from the poor, dilapidated 
hired room where the average East Side congregation wor- 

The previous year on Yom Kippur I had accompanied my 
father to his synagogue on Henry Street, and had scarcely sur- 
vived the ordeal. At least one hundred men and boys were 
packed in a room that could not have accommodated fifty. 
Like every Yom Kippur I had known before or have known 
since, this one was unbearably warm and humid. I had taken 
the precaution the day before of buying a tiny phial of "Yom 
Kippur drops" for a penny, and whenever I grew faint I 
would take a whiff of the drops and feel better for a while. 
But in the late afternoon there came a moment when the men 
removed their shoes and prayed in their stocking feet. Inured 
to individual odors only, I was unable to tolerate the massed 
onslaught. I fainted dead away, and had to be carried out- 
doors and revived with many applications of "Yom Kippur 
drops" and dashes of cold water on my face. How different 
was the roomy temple on Madison Street, where open win- 
dows on opposite sides of the room provided a slight cross- 
current of warm air, and the congregation did not remove its 
collective shoes! 

My three dollars could not have arrived at a more oppor- 
tune time. My mother's teeth had been troubling her for years, 
and many of them had been extracted. On her most recent 
visit to the dentist on Rivington Street she had been advised 
to have the rest of them removed and replaced by an arti- 
ficial set. This she agreed to on the representation that she 
would then be done with dentists forever. The new teeth 
would be costly, but the dentist was willing to undertake the 


job on an installment arrangement of fifty cents a week. Two 
of my dollars went to the dentist as an advance, fifty cents 
went to Mr. Katz, and the remaining half dollar I was allowed 
to do with as I pleased. I felt proud to be able to contribute so 
large a sum toward my mother's new teeth. The parents of 
some of my playmates had complete sets of teeth, which they 
removed at bedtime and put in a glass of water for the night. 
Now I should also be in a position to boast about my mother's 
"plates." A gold cap was of course more ostentatious and 
therefore more desirable. But a whole new set of evenly 
matched teeth, removable at will, was the next best thing, for 
while they did not command, like a gold cap, instant attention, 
there was no possibility of mistaking them for one's natural 
teeth, because of their whiteness and regularity. 

With my own half dollar I began to assemble a library of 
books. My taste had suddenly taken an unusual turn away 
from the classics of poetry and short tales we read in school 
and toward a new and more exciting literature of adventure. 
The Rutgers Streeters were, by and large, reading the works 
of Horatio Alger, the adventures of Nick Carter, the detec- 
tive, the weekly serial The Liberty Boys of *j6, and, in a lesser 
measure, Oliver Optic and George Henty. All these appeared 
in paper covers and were rotated among those of the gang 
who contributed to their purchase. The Alger books cost 
eight cents apiece, the weekly serials two cents, and all were 
bought second-hand. With my very first Alger book I felt 
that a new horizon had opened for me, for they were not only 
embodiments of action, but action prompted by the highest 
ethical principles. Then, too, they vindicated Mr. Silver's 
philosophy of sturdy, aggressive individualism. Horatio Alger 
convinced me through art that poor and rich were alike in- 
dispensable to a great country like America. 

I now became aware of America, where before I had been 
aware only of a few square miles in New York's East Side. 
The America of Horatio Alger contained, curiously enough, 

The Freedom Method 205 

no Jews. There were no divisions of "classes" and "masses." 
There were rich and poor, but the rich could suddenly become 
poor, and the poor gradually became rich. It was a country of 
limitless opportunity for the moral, the virtuous, and the in- 
dustrious. The poorest, the obscurest boy could aspire to the 
richest, the most beautiful girl. As I read my very first Alger 
book, I fancied that the author was writing about me. How 
did it happen that this great writer knew the secret aspirations 
of a young boy he had never seen? I was the "Erie Train 
Boy." I did not sell candy and peanuts on a train, but I had the 
Erie Train Boy's desire to better myself and, above all, to 
help my mother. My mother was not a widow; but if she had 
been, I would have been as loving and considerate a son as the 
Erie Train Boy had been. And what extraordinary insight 
into the mind and heart of a boy Mr. Alger revealed! He had 
endowed his hero with all my characteristics. I, too, hated 
bullies and was quick to right injustice. The only differences 
between us were owing to the difference In bringing up and 
environment. The Erie Train Boy had never questioned the 
social order because there was no Mr. Strassmeir to in- 
fluence him to question It. For him the social order was com- 
posed of good and bad people, and what else could people be 
but good or bad? Extraordinary, too, was Horatio Alger's 
belief in the existence of luck, especially in the lives of the 
poor and deserving. How often had I daydreamed about being 
accosted by a man who would place a wallet, fat with money, 
in my hands and saying: "I know you are good and are in 
need; take this and ask no questions, nor ever try to find me" 
would disappear! How often had I (out of compassion) 
given my penny allowance for candy to a tattered, misshapen 
beggar, with the secret hope that I should someday be the 
beneficiary of his accumulated wealth, for it was well known 
that the worst-looking mendicants left the largest legacies ! 

A recurring daydream had me stopping a runaway horse 
and carriage, thus saving the life of its only passenger, a lovely 


young lady belonging to a rich family. And now, marvelous 
to read, I saw my hopes and dreams coming true in Horatio 
Alger's books. Here on the printed page before me a poor boy 
stopped a runaway equipage and saved the life of a beautiful 
young lady whose father was miraculously yet justly the 
president of an important bank. What insight into the soul of a 
boy! And what a country America was for a boy to grow up 
in! I do not recall worrying about the absence of Jews in the 
America of Horatio Alger. Certainly so democratic a country 
could be counted on to embrace and cherish people of all 
faiths. The fact that all the Alger heroes were Christians was 
merely accidental. I had little doubt that I, too, could have 
been an Erie Train Boy. I knew I should have behaved ex- 
actly like the one in Horatio Alger's story. 

On the other hand, I often thought I should have preferred 
living in America during the period of the Revolutionary War 
as one of the Liberty Boys of '76. Business opportunities were 
scarcer in those days, but nobody required business oppor- 
tunities at the most crucial moment in American history. 
What the boys of that fateful year desired exclusively was the 
opportunity to serve their country, and those opportunities 
could not have been more abundant. I could never have 
imagined that the Revolution owed so much to the American 
boy not the soldier in uniform, but the younger boys who 
could not bear the thought of sitting idly by while their 
country was desperately engaged in throwing off its foreign 
yoke. Even General Washington leaned heavily on the 
courage and resourcefulness of these boys out of uniform. 
This nation would never have been freed without their aid. 
At Valley Forge, at Trenton, at every great crisis of our 
Revolutionary cause, these Liberty Boys saved the day. They 
exposed the traitorous Aaron Burr and captured the suave 
Major Andre. They were everywhere except, curiously 
enough, in the history books! 

The future held several interesting possibilities for me, and 

The Freedom Method 207 

I escaped into it frequently, especially at those times when the 
present began to show a forbidding side, as it did in the alarm- 
ing decline in the profits of our delicatessen store. There were 
weeks when the store showed no profits at all. And as with 
our living-quarters, the first of each month again became a day 
to be dreaded. My parents held many consultations on the 
advisability of selling the store or, if no one should offer to 
buy it, of dissolving the business and returning the fixtures to 
the Mandlebaum Sausage Factory as part payment of our 
debt. We could never hope to repay Mr. Beylinson, but that 
was not a serious consideration. My mother believed that 
Mr. Beylinson, out of sentiment, did not expect to be repaid. 
My parents would no sooner have decided to abandon the 
store, however, than there would come an unexpected spurt 
in sales, which my mother chose to regard as a trend and an 
augury of future prosperity. Whereupon plans for its sale or 
dissolution were hastily abandoned. 

Fortunately, during this time of indecision my father com- 
pleted his rabbinical studies and became free to set up as a 
shochet and mohel and to perform marriage ceremonies. My 
brother-in-law, the house-painter, painted a small tin sign that 
read: "Morris Chotzinoff, Practical Mohel (Circumciser), 
ist Floor Back," which, with the janitor's permission, he 
nailed to the wall in the entrance hall. My father was averse 
to the change from Moshe Baer to Morris, but, anticipating 
this, Joe had made the change on his own initiative as a gesture 
toward Americanization, and my father was presented with a 
fait accompli. At home and among his friends he was called 
Moshe Baer. As for the adjective "practical," Joe had merely 
copied it from the signs of other East Side mohels. According 
to these, all mohels considered themselves "practical," and I, 
and presumably everyone else, assumed that that was what 
mohels had to be to invite patronage. "Practical" of course 
meant "practicing." Yet I used to doubt the necessity of the 
adjective on the signs of the neighborhood mohels. It seemed 


to me supererogatory; for if a mohel was not practicing, he 
would hardly put up a sign to that effect. 

My father's first circumcision came through the recom- 
mendation of Zalman Reich. Mr. Reich's six sons were most 
prolific, and my father was constantly invited to the Reichs' 
to celebrate the birth of a grandchild with a glass of "schnapps" 
(whisky) and a piece of herring. On the arrival of another 
male grandchild, Zalman Reich told my father that he had 
ordered his son to engage him as mohel, but that he had per- 
mitted the mother of the baby to assume that my father was a 
"practical" mohel of long standing. My father made much of 
this proof of Zalman Reich's absolute power over his children 
and his trust in the steadiness of the new mohel' s hand. 

A week after the birth of the Reich grandson, my father 
and I repaired to the son's house. I went in the capacity of as- 
sistant and aide. The house was full of friends and neighbors 
to witness the ceremonial operation, and I felt very important 
as I made my way through them behind my father, carrying 
the case of knives, the whetstone, and the cotton wadding. 
To prevent the baby from catching cold, all the windows had 
been shut tight, though it was midsummer and very hot. We 
went into the bedroom, where the mother, with her breasts 
exposed, reclined sideways on a beautiful iron bedstead orna- 
mented with numberless shiny brass globes. The baby, 
smothered in long clothes, lay at her side and sucked greedily 
at her right breast. Mezuzahs were tacked to the door to ward 
off evil. 

A woman removed the child from the bed, placed him on a 
small pillow, and carried him into the front room, where the 
circumcision would take place. The mother was loath to give 
up the child. She cried a little and begged my father not to hurt 
him too much. In the front room the pillow with the baby 
on it was placed on a table and the baby's garments and diapers 
removed. I opened the case of knives and handed one to my 
father, who examined it critically and tested its sharpness by 

The Freedom Method 209 

deftly cutting a hair from his hand. A basin of water and a 
towel were brought. The spectators, with the sandak (god- 
father) at their head, formed a circle around the table and my 
father and me. The woman who had brought the baby in now 
held him down firmly by the shoulders, and the sandak held 
down his legs. My father then performed the act of circum- 
cision with astonishing swiftness for a first attempt. The baby 
began to wail and the mother in the bedroom set up a sympa- 
thetic weeping. The woman replaced the diaper and long gar- 
ments and took the baby, still crying weakly, back to its 
mother. Cakes and wine were passed around, and the gather- 
ing grew merry. I replaced the knife (after my father had 
wiped it clean) and felt very professional and quite superior 
to some boys of my age who clustered around me admiringly. 

Zalman Reich's son gave my father three dollars for the 
operation. This was the standard fee for a circumcision, but we 
thought it was handsome, considering the inexperience of my 
father. Two circumcisions a week would about bring in as 
much profit as the delicatessen store made in its best weeks. 
But it might be years before my father's skill would be well 
enough known to bring him so large a number of circum- 

Some weeks later my father was engaged to slaughter sixty 
chickens at a butcher's shop in Scammel Street for the Purim 
holidays. The price agreed on was two chickens for a nickel. 
On a Saturday evening I accompanied my father to the 
butcher's. My job was to take each doomed chicken from its 
coop and pluck out its feathers in the vicinity of the jugular 
vein, preparatory to my father's slitting its throat. The noise 
set up by the chickens was deafening, and the small basement 
shop appeared snowing with feathers. My father, with his 
jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, stood with a knife held be- 
tween his teeth, in front of him a large tin vat. As I handed 
him each cackling, reluctant chicken (I can still see their 
glassy eyes fixed on me reproachfully), he bent its neck back- 


ward with his left hand until the throat almost snapped. With 
his right hand he took the knife from his mouth, made a single 
pass with it over the jugular vein, and held the fluttering bird 
directly over the vat, which now received its spasmodic spurts 
of blood. I soon got used to the baleful look the chickens gave 
me before they expired, and I prepared them for the knife as 
rapidly as my father finished them off. The slaughter was over 
by midnight, when we washed the blood from our clothes and 
hands and left for home, a dollar and a half richer. 

My father was pleased with his new activities, and our 
future began to look rosier. On the other hand, the delicates- 
sen store was now a definite liability, and its liquidation could 
no longer be postponed. My mother gave notice to the land- 
lord that the store premises would be vacated by the end of 
the month, and the Mandlebaum Sausage Factory was ad- 
vised to remove the store fixtures before that time. At this 
moment in our affairs my brother Solomon arrived from 
Waterbury, Connecticut, with good news. He had succeeded 
in obtaining a position for my father at a slaughterhouse on 
the outskirts of the city. The wages were twelve dollars 
and four pounds of meat a week. We would move, rent-free, 
into the upper story of a house Albert and Solomon owned in 
one of the best neighborhoods. Thus all our troubles would be 
over, and we could live in comfort and security in a fine Con- 
necticut town for the rest of our lives. 

My father and I greeted this plan with enthusiasm. My 
mother was more reserved, though she did not oppose it. I 
figured that she was loath to leave Hannah and Molly. Indeed, 
she would have been hard put to it to find any other grounds 
for opposing the plan. Molly, as a marriageable young girl, 
would, of course, be better off in New York than in a country 
town whose Jewish population was negligible. On learning 
about our plans to remove to Waterbury, Hannah invited her 
sister to make her home with her in her apartment on Seventh 
Street, between Avenue B and Avenue C. By the end of the 

The Freedom Method 211 

month the store had been dismantled; on the very day we left 
for Waterbury a junk-dealer bought the entire contents of our 
own apartment (except for the few household items we would 
need) for the sum of fifteen dollars. Considering that the 
dealer, on first looking the things over, announced that he 
couldn't in honesty offer more than two dollars and that he 
wasn't even sure he could realize that sum on a resale, it 
seemed to me that my mother had taken advantage of him. 
Several times he left the house in indignation, but he always 
returned a few minutes later with what, after consigning my 
mother and her furniture to perdition, he swore was his final 
offer. When he advanced his offer to ten dollars and vowed 
that if that was turned down we should never see him again, I 
implored my mother to close with him before it was too late. 
But she knew better. And as the dealer reluctantly counted out 
fifteen crumpled and soiled dollar bills into her hand, she threw 
me a contemptuous glance. 


Connecticut Interlude 1 


^E WENT to Waterbury by water and rail. 
Early in the morning we walked to the foot of Gouverneur 
Street. A pushcart bearing our clothes and bedding, our pots 
and pans, our cutlery, and such household odds and ends as my 
mother wished to take along had preceded us to the pier. The 
boat went no farther than Bridgeport, but we checked our bag- 
gage direct to Waterbury. At Bridgeport we walked to the 
railroad station, which was close by, and after an hour's wait 
the Waterbury train came along and we climbed aboard it in 
haste, so that we might find seats together. 

Children between the ages of six and twelve required a half 
ticket, but no ticket of any kind was bought for me. I was 
cautioned to slump down in my seat when the conductor came 
along and try to look as young as possible. As we left each 
station and the conductor came in to punch the tickets, I slid 

A Connecticut Interlude / 2 1 3 

down in my seat as far as I could and remained in a cramped 
and uncomfortable position until my mother signaled that the 
coast was clear. Once the conductor looked at me sharply and 
asked how old I was. My mother gave him a charming smile 
and said: "Baby!" one of the few English words she knew. 
Fearful that the man's suspicions would only be confirmed by 
an exaggeration so gross, I hastily interposed and said I was 
five and three-quarters, in the most childish voice I could 
muster. The conductor, still looking dubious, passed on, and 
I waited until I heard the door of our car shut behind him be- 
fore I thought it safe to sit up. But he gave us no further 

It was the longest train ride I had ever taken. I sat close to 
the window and watched the lovely countryside come into 
view, unfold for me in a semicircle, and roll off somewhere 
behind the train. After an hour my mother produced the in- 
evitable kuchlech for herself and my father, and corned-beef 
sandwiches with pickles and mustard for Sarah, my little sister 
Goldie, and me. Many passengers had left the train at the 
frequent stops we made, and we had almost the entire car to 
ourselves by the time the conductor announced "Naw- 
gatuck! Naw-gatuck? Next station, Waterbury!" We left 
Naugatuck, and the train ran alongside a river bank. We came 
in sight of a field where boys were playing baseball. The river, 
which had at first been clean and sparkling, became muddy 
and shallow. Pieces of rusty iron stuck up from its bottom and 
lined its banks. In the distance we saw long, low buildings with 
tall chimneys from which poured heavy smoke and live 
cinders. The train slowed up. The conductor opened the door 
and shouted: "Water-bury! Water-bury? Waterbury!" We 
gathered our belongings and moved toward the door. 

Flanked by my mother and father, who tried to hide me 
from the conductor, I walked with my knees bent and my 
shoulders hunched in a final effort to look my alleged age. 
The conductor was now on the station platform giving a help- 


ing hand to the people leaving the train. I doubled up, climbed 
down the steps onto the footstool, then stepped to the ground. 
Nor did I straighten up until the train began to move and the 
conductor hopped aboard it. 

Albert and Solomon were waiting at the station with a horse 
and wagon. There was some delay in getting our baggage, but 
it was presently piled on the wagon and we started off. We 
drove through wide streets, tree-lined, and up a steep hill, 
turning in to Burton Street, where we were to live. Burton 
Street was wide, too, and tree-lined, and each wooden house 
was painted white and had a front lawn and a back yard. 
Many years later, longing to see Burton Street again, I re- 
visited it and was amazed to find the street rather narrow than 
broad, as I had remembered it. But it looked very wide when I 
first set eyes on it, very leafy, and charmingly rural. When 
contrasted with Rutgers Place, it was country. 

Our house had a white picket fence around it. There were 
a downstairs and an upstairs porch, both open, and a great 
horse-chestnut tree stood close by, its branches almost touch- 
ing both balustrades. Our apartment occupied the second 
story. Its size and splendor took my breath away. Solomon, 
looking very pleased, conducted us from room to room. He 
had furnished it completely except for bedding, and apparently 
had spared no expense. He took us first into the kitchen, by a 
back entrance. There stood a large, shiny black stove orna- 
mented with elaborate nickel facings. Linoleum covered the 
entire floor. A large, open, white cabinet held a complete set 
of dishes, brilliantly colored and set out in tiers. There were 
three sunlit bedrooms (I had always thought bedrooms were 
obliged to be sunless and dark), one with a double brass bed, 
the others with two single wooden beds in each! The dining- 
room was vast. A large pot-bellied tin stove stood in the 
center, its stovepipe rising halfway to the ceiling, then bend- 
ing and continuing straight across the room to a hole in the 
wall above a window. 

A Connecticut Interlude / 2 1 5 

With a feeling for climax, Solomon left the front room for 
the last. When he threw open its door, we were dazzled by 
what we saw. Our eyes were first of all drawn to the floor by 
a brilliantly flowered carpet, so vivid as to nullify everything 
else in the room, even the wallpaper, whose colors and design 
would by themselves have been overpowering. And right 
against a wall, near a window facing the street, stood a piano^ 
a shiny, tall, upright piano of unmistakable mahogany, as 
solid as any I had seen on display in Spector's store on Grand 
Street. Quite overcome with emotion, and forgetting my 
secret, I ran to the piano, seated myself on the revolving stool, 
and launched into The Burning of Rome. It was only when I ar- 
rived at the moment of Nero's appearance on the balcony of 
his palace that I remembered that no one but my mother and 
two sisters knew that I could play. I stopped abruptly and 
wheeled around. To my surprise, my mother was smiling. My 
father and my brothers looked quite bewildered, and regarded 
me with curiosity. My mother appeared to enjoy the sensation 
I had caused. "Don't stop," she cried. "Go on! Go on!" And 
I turned back and finished The Burning of Rome with an extra 
show of bravura. 

When I finished, my mother revealed the story of my secret 
musical studies. It was a carefully doctored version, in which 
there had never been an outlay of a single penny on her part, 
for either tuition or music books, both of which grateful and 
enthusiastic teachers had been only too happy to contribute. 
Indeed, my dash and agility at the piano gave her story 
plausibility and reduced my father's grievance to mere 
petulance at having been kept in the dark about my inex- 
pensive accomplishment. As for the presence of the piano in 
our new home, Solomon explained that he had acquired it 
along with all the other household furnishings as a result of a 
"foreclosure," a mysterious event that he did not deign to ex- 
plain, but in which my mother professed to see the hand of 


For days I could not bear to be away from the piano. I knew 
that I must not play it when my father was dovening (praying) . 
But the moment he took off his prayer shawl and phylacteries 
in the morning, I went into the front room, closed the door, 
and began to play. But before a week had passed, my father 
complained that my never-ceasing "banging" had become un- 
endurable. "And where will it end?" he demanded, a question 
my mother brushed aside with the flat assertion that a child 
must have some amusement and with the disturbing statement 
that there were less innocuous pastimes than music a young 
boy might be tempted to pursue. What these might be she 
would not tell. 

Playing the piano on the Sabbath was at first out of the 
question. But after a month of strictly observed Sabbaths, I 
could no longer resist the temptation to play on the forbidden 
day. And one Saturday morning from a front-room window I 
watched my father turn the corner at Burton Street into North 
Main Street. When he was out of sight, I boldly sat down at 
the piano and began to play. I expected my mother to rush in 
to tell me to stop, but to my surprise she left me undisturbed 
for a long time. When she came into the room, it was only 
to warn me that my father would be returning home at any 
moment. She must have pledged my sisters and my brother's 
family downstairs to secrecy, for I continued to play the 
piano Saturday mornings without my father's knowledge. 

The "Freedom method," apart from releasing me from the 
drudgery of ordinary practice, also solved the problem of a 
teacher. For the nature of the method was such that, once it 
had been grasped, a teacher could prove a hindrance to the 
development of one's individuality. I knew, at the moment, no 
piano teachers in Waterbury. In any case a provincial city, 
hours distant from New York, most likely had never even 
heard of the "Freedom method" and of its two exponents, 
Mme Zamoshkin and the Great Anton Rubinstein. I felt 
confident that I could learn to play the most difficult music of 

A Connecticut Interlude / 217 

the past and present without the aid of a teacher. The problem 
was how to obtain the music. I knew my small repertoire by 
heart, but I felt the need of adding to it continually, both for 
my own profit and for the pleasure of my audience, who 
might, I feared, soon get tired of the three overtures, The 
Burning of Rome, and the half-dozen smaller programmatic 
items I kept repeating. This problem, however, soon solved 
itself, and in the most unexpected fashion. 

Since the London days my father had suffered much from 
headaches. Having seen a remedy advertised called "Bromo- 
Seltzer," he sent me, one day, to purchase a bottle at the drug- 
store on North Main Street. When I paid the ten cents, the 
clerk not only gave me a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, but asked 
me to choose one piece of sheet music from a large assortment 
piled up on the counter, explaining that the Bromo-Seltzer 
people were giving out a printed musical work for the piano 
with each purchase of the remedy. I examined the pile and was 
astonished at the variety and range of the compositions. I 
should have liked to carry away all the numbers. Choosing 
only one posed a heartbreaking problem. At last I decided on 
the "Miserere" from // Trouatore because it recalled my Lon- 
don and Stanton Street days, when I followed the hurdy- 
gurdies from street to street. The excerpt was an easy ar- 
rangement, but it included the words of the chorus, and 
Manrico's aria. "Ah! I have sighed to rest me" was printed 
above the notes of the aria, and I understood for the first time 
why the melody had so moved me. Whatever else he was in 
Verdi's opera, Manrico in his "Bromo-Seltzer aria" was mel- 
ancholy to an unbearable degree, even though in a major key. 
Wherever he had languished when he sang the aria in the 
opera, he must have been nobly and mellifluously unhappy. 
I was consumed to know why, but there was no enlighten- 
ment beyond the expression of his unhappiness in the words 
and music. And what did the opening chords of the chorus, 
minor and softly massive, identified only hazily by words in a 


strange language (presumably Latin), picture? A Christian 
church perhaps, but grander than the one on the corner of 
Rutgers and Henry streets, from which, on Sunday mornings, I 
used to hear, over an organ foundation of sound, voices chant- 
ing, but in unison, crudely, not in somber chords as in the 

My gratitude to the Bromo-Seltzer people for their largess 
was unalloyed for the time it took me to master and commit to 
memory the "Miserere" When I had done that, I realized 
with a shock that the growth of my musical repertoire would 
be dictated by the frequency of my father's headaches. I saw, 
with a sinking of the heart, that a single bottle of Bromo- 
Seltzer held sufficient powder to relieve the recurring head- 
aches for a month, while I was able to learn a new composi- 
tion in a matter of three or four days! I took to watching not 
only my father but the rest of the family for signs of migraine. 
My mother, unfortunately, suffered from maladies beyond the 
scope of Bromo-Seltzer to alleviate. I took to withdrawing a 
teaspoonful of the white substance secretly now and then, 
and so hastened the purchase of a new bottle. My mother 
sometimes wondered at the extraordinary rate of the family's 
consumption of Bromo-Seltzer. Over a period of a year, how- 
ever, I acquired, through the agency of my father's real and 
my own simulated headaches, more than a dozen compositions 
of the most piquant variety. I learned them quickly, ascribing 
my skill to the liberating properties of the "Freedom method." 
In later years I discovered with a sense of shock that the 
Bromo-Seltzer people had simplified the pieces to the lowest 
common denominator of current proficiency on the piano. 

Burton Street and the neighborhood around it were Chris- 
tian territory, but across the car tracks on North Main Street, 
in the rear of the Waterbury Brass and Foundry Company, 
there was a ghetto-like area called Jerusalem, where most of 
my brothers' friends resided. In due course these families 
became our friends, and we were invited to Jerusalem to visit 

A Connecticut Interlude / 219 

and drink tea. My brothers had built up the greater part of 
Jerusalem. With no capital of their own they had erected a 
dozen or so two-story wooden houses, each with a porch, and 
had rented the apartments to those of their friends and ac- 
quaintances who had previously lived dispersed among the 
Christians of the town. My brother Solomon was a habitue 
at the Feins reins', a family who lived on the first floor of one 
of these houses, and we had not been long in Waterbury before 
he presented us to them. The Feinsteins had two daughters, 
Bernice, a young lady of marriageable age, and Hannah, a girl 
of about my own age. It was clear that the Feinsteins regarded 
my brother Solomon as a suitor for Bernice. Mrs. Feinstein 
praised her elder daughter extravagantly to her face in my 
brother's presence, attributing to her all the virtues of an 
efficient wife and several purely ornamental accomplishments 
such as piano-playing and the writing of poetry. Bernice, a 
pretty, plump brunette, who, it seemed to me, could inspire 
affection with her looks alone, was sincerely modest and 
always decried her mother's fulsome praises, which she would 
interrupt with u Oh! Stop, Mamma!" or c 'Don't be silly, 
Mamma!" Mrs. Feinstein loudly brushed aside her daughter's 
protestations. "Oh! Stop, Mamma!" she would mimic. "Why 
should Mamma stop? Is Mamma telling lies? No! Is it wrong 
for Mamma to say that you are an educated girl? (She grad- 
uated from high school with the best marks!) Is it wrong to 
tell the world you can recite? Is it wrong to say you play the 
piano? Play for Solomon The Eight Sufferers" 

In the end Bernice always did what her mother bade her. 
She turned back the flaps of the gray rubber sheathing that 
completely encased their upright piano, opened the lid, 
screwed the piano stool up as high as it could go (I noticed 
that girls and women always sat high at the piano), and 
launched into The Eight Sufferers. I liked The Eight Sufferers, 
and I was hoping that Bernice would lend the music to me so 
that I might learn to play it by heart. The composition, by a 


composer whose name I have forgotten, was a memorial to 
eight anarchists who had figured in the "Chicago strike" in 
the year 1886. This unfortunate octet were tried for murder 
and found guilty, and four were executed. On learning the de- 
tails of the tragedy I at once took the side of labor against 
capital, and, like the composer of The Eight Sufferers, fiercely 
resented the martyrdom of the eight. The Feinsteins, too, 
were on the side of the martyrs, but Bernice's interpretation 
of the piece lacked, I thought, the pathos inherent in the ter- 
rible situation of the eight during their trial and the nobility 
of soul implicit in their defiance of capitalism. 

The impact of The Eight Sufferers on my brother was, 
naturally, modified by the circumstance that he himself was 
something of a capitalist, though in a small way. By nature 
timid, retiring, and sentimental, he was, however, also moved 
by the sufferings, if not by the ideology, of the eight. During 
her daughter's performance Mrs. Feinstein watched him nar- 
rowly for signs of a favorable reaction to the performer. She 
could not, of course, know that his heart at that period be- 
longed to his own foster sister, Molly. Molly had herself in- 
timated as much to me and, indeed, I had observed Solomon's 
marked attentions to her when she came to Waterbury to 
spend a week's vacation with us. My mother favored the al- 
liance, but Molly herself could feel nothing for Solomon "in 
that way," and accepted his invitation on Sunday afternoon to 
take a buggy ride to an amusement park beyond the city limits 
only on condition that I would go along. I was, of course, in- 
vited to accompany them, and I spent an unforgettable after- 

I had not seen an amusement park since we left Russia. 
This one was a large tract of forest, with long tables and 
benches for picnickers who brought their own provisions. 
There was an open-air theater, and Solomon paid thirty cents 
for three tickets. We sat on a long bench close to the stage and 
enjoyed a variety show that lasted more than two hours. 

A Connecticut Interlude / 


There were vocalists, wire-walkers, trick bicycle-riders and 
comedians, and, for a finale, a minstrel show. The black-face 
artists interested me most, and their songs opened for me a 
new world of careless, ingratiating music, while the "lyrics" 
painted the Negroes as a jolly, pleasure-loving, humorously 
fatalistic people. I saw "soft shoe" dancing for the first time, 
and I gave myself up to the enchantment of its effortless 
rhythms. "Please go 'way, and let me sleep. Don't disturb my 
slumber deep," a black-face pair of men, clad in identical 
checked suits, with starched collars, straw hats, and canes, in- 
toned dreamily and improvisationally, sometimes hurrying a 
word, sometimes drawing it out, while their feet tapped out 
soft, insistent rhythms, strictly in time. It was my intro- 
duction to "nibato," though it would be years before I could 
thus identify this strange relationship of melody and rhythm. 

We moved to Waterbury sometime in August, and school 
did not begin until the second week in September. I had more 
than a month for idling and getting to know the city, time to 
make friends, practice the piano intensively, and explore the 
fields and forests that lay about a half-hour's walk from Burton 
Street. Burton Street itself was "country" enough for me. Its 
grassy front and back yards, little flower gardens, and great 
horse-chestnuts and elms very nearly approximated the 
pastoral scenes that climaxed the excursions Molly and I had 
used to embark upon at the foot of Montgomery Street on 
hot, sticky summer mornings. Directly opposite our house 
began Elm Street, which after about two hundred feet of level 
ground suddenly rose as a steep hill and continued so for a 
quarter of a mile. Its summit, bare of houses, marked the be- 
ginning of virgin country. Standing there, one could not see 
the city below, so thick was the vegetation, so tall and close 
together the trees. I found a small clearing, where I decided 
to build myself a rustic hideaway, something like the houses 
of boards and pine branches my father and some neighbors 


put together in the back yard of our tenement in East Broad- 
way during Succoth. I borrowed a saw, a hammer, and nails 
from Solomon, and in a single morning I constructed a small 
sylvan retreat. There I used to sit for hours at a time listening 
to the birds and imitating their music in the hope of drawing 
them down to visit me. I told my mother that I communi- 
cated with many birds, but most intimately with one who sang 
"Bobwhite." And I fibbed a little and said that the bobwhites 
and I were now on the most agreeable footing and that I must 
not forget to take along with me a roll soaked in milk with 
which to feed my new friends, carrying out the promise I 
had made them in bird language. 1 did, indeed, scatter tiny 
pieces of a milk-soaked roll in the vicinity of my hut, but when 
I kept watch, no birds appeared to eat them, though I could 
hear their notes in the trees above me. The next morning, 
however, I could find no traces of the bread. I hoped that in 
time they would overcome their shyness and not wait until I 
was gone to pick up the crumbs I scattered. But they never 
did, and at length I grew impatient and angry with them. And 
when Chubb, a boy who lived in a house across the street, in- 
vited me one morning to go bird-hunting with him, I accepted 
his offer. 

He carried a long, evil-looking gun with two barrels, and 
when we came to my hut on the top of the hill he taught me to 
aim and fire it. At my first attempt I fell on my back from the 
recoil of the gun, and my shoulder ached. But Chubb made me 
try again and again, and at last he pointed to a sparrow on a 
twig in a copse some distance away, and I fired, shutting my 
eyes as I did so. Chubb ran into the bushes and returned with a 
tiny, rigid bird in the hollow of his hand. I saw to my horror 
that the little head lay open and spattered with blood. I felt 
sick and was forced to turn aside and vomit. Chubb asked me 
if I had eaten something that had made me ill, and I said I had 
and that I had better go home and lie down. When I got home, 
however, I felt better, and boasted, to my mother's bewilder- 

A Connecticut Interlude / 223 

ment, of having killed a bird. She had understood, she said, 
that the birds were my friends, and she wondered why I 
should want to kill my friends. I began to cry, and 1 promised 
her (and myself) never again to harm a living creature. And I 
kept my promise, though I could not resist accompanying 
Chubb on his frequent hunting expeditions. 

Chubb was about thirteen, a tall, gangling boy, loosely built. 
He always looked as if he had slept with all his clothes on and 
had only just got out of bed. Yet he was very strong. He 
wielded an ax on a cord of firewood with great efficiency and, 
if I happened to be present, with exaggerated flourishes. He 
liked to wrestle and fight. Of course I was no match for him, 
and I was always quickly thrown. When I was down, he 
would dig his knees into my back and wrench my arms back- 
ward until I cried for mercy. Sometimes on our walks in the 
country he would suddenly stop in his tracks, square off, and 
command me to defend myself. We both knew the command 
to be insincere, but there was nothing for me to do but clench 
my fists and make a show of guarding my head and chest be- 
fore I fell, overwhelmed by the force of his powerful blows. 
When I got to my feet again, he brushed my clothes with his 
hands and erased all signs of our encounter, behaving like one 
who bears no malice. 

Yet it was Chubb who first made me aware of anti-Semitism 
in Waterbury. Unlike New York, where I believed that most 
Christians were bottled up in Cherry Street and on the water- 
front, Waterbury was entirely Christian except for the hand- 
ful of Jews residing in Jerusalem. Thus far our neighbors on 
both sides of Burton Street had shown politeness and some- 
times even cordiality toward me. Mrs. Calahan, Chubb' s 
mother, often invited me in for a cookie and a cup of coffee 
when I came over to play with her son or help him cut the 
lawn. His older sister Jessie, a senior in high school, was a 
large, pretty, blonde girl, with whom I fell in love at first 
sight as she sat on her front porch and chewed gum lazily, 


drawing the aromatic tape to and from her lips like an elastic 
in ever longer and thinner stretchings. Jessie liked to tease me, 
but she always took my part in the quarrels her brother and I 
continually engaged in. 

On our side of the street, where it began its decline toward 
the intersecting Elizabeth Street, was a firehouse with two 
beautifully equipped and shining vehicles a hook and ladder, 
and an engine and hose. They stood side by side, with the 
harnesses for the horses suspended by wires from the ceiling. 
Mornings at seven and evenings at six a bell would ring for a 
fire drill. Unless prevented by illness, I never missed these 
exciting tests. At the sound of the bell the hitherto quiet place 
suddenly came to life. Half-dressed firemen slid down a pole 
from some upper region in rapid succession. Five big white 
fire-horses came clattering from their stables and took their 
places under their harnesses, which then descended on them 
and were quickly fastened by the firemen charged with this 
task. The drivers leaped into their lofty seats and seized the 
reins, while all the other firemen, in their undershirts, but 
helmeted and with axes in hand, sprang on the running-boards 
of the engines. At that crucial moment the bell rang again. 
The firemen jumped off the running-boards, the drivers in 
front and the steersmen behind scrambled down; the trappings 
of the horses were unbuckled, the harnesses ascended half- 
way to the ceiling. The drill was over. But the demonstration, 
witnessed by many children of the neighborhood and a sprin- 
kling of grown-ups, was always breath-taking. 

At other times I used to chat with the chief fireman, who 
generally sat on a stool in front of the firehouse and beguiled 
the time with a paper-bound book. People were cheerful and 
pleasant with me. Our next-door neighbor to our right said 
"Good morning" to me when we met in the early morning, 
he carrying a lunch basket on his way to work, I returning 
home from the fire drill. He had two little girls, aged about 
three and five, and a beautiful wife who seemed to love flowers 

A Connecticut Interlude / 225 

more than any of her neighbors did. Every clear day at sun- 
down she watered her geraniums and nasturtiums while she 
kept an eye on her children playing on the lawn. The three 
would wait for the father to come home from work. And when 
they descried his tall, thin, bent form in the distance, they 
would go to meet him halfway and then walk back together, 
not speaking to each other, but looking contented. After sup- 
per the man would come out alone, attach a hose to a spigot 
at the front of his house, and water his lawn, painstakingly 
slaking the thirst of every blade of grass. He would call out to 
me to say what a nice evening it was, and ask if I continued to 
like Waterbury, and wasn't Burton Street pretty? 

Then Chubb disturbed the serenity of my first summer in 
Waterbury. One morning when we were wrestling on his 
lawn, while Jessie sat reading and chewing gum on the steps 
of their porch, I gained the advantage over him for the first 
time in all our battles. I had him flat on his back, and I exerted 
all my strength to pin his shoulders to the ground and so win 
the match. Jessie, seeing how close I appeared to be to victory, 
spurred me on with words of encouragement and made me de- 
termined to conquer, if only to gain favor with her. I had al- 
ready firmly pinned his left shoulder down with my knee when 
Chubb screamed: "No you don't, sheeny!" The appellation 
had its intended effect. My grip relaxed, and the next mo- 
ment Chubb had rolled over me and had me under him, both 
my shoulders securely touching the ground. As I rose and 
dusted myself off, his sister cried: "Shame on you, Chubb!" 
and Chubb retorted: "Well, he is a sheeny!" And to me: "You 
are, you know! You killed Christ, didn't you?" I denied the 
charge vehemently. Chubb went on: "Well, if you didn't, 
your father did. He's got a beard." I stood helplessly shaking 
my head, and Jessie came over and put her arms around me. 
"Stop that, you brute!" she screamed at her brother. But he 
wouldn't be stopped. "Your grandfather your great-great- 
great-great grandfather did it. He killed Christ. Yes he did. 


And on Passover you drink Christian blood. Everybody knows 
that!" I broke away from Jessie and ran up Maple Street, my 
heart pounding with impotent rage. I made for my hide-out 
on the hill. There I threw myself on the ground and wept bit- 
ter tears. 

I knew that it was forbidden to speak of Christ in an ortho- 
dox Jewish house. In cheder he would be mentioned derisively 
by the name of "Yoshke Pandre" (Yoshke was the diminutive 
of Joseph, but the meaning of "Pandre" I could never dis- 
cover), a renegade Jew who pretended to be God and de- 
servedly crashed to the ground when in his foolish pride he 
attempted to fly in the air like a bird. I was smarting under 
Chubb' s wild accusation, however, and I decided to brave 
my father's wrath and learn, once and for all, the truth of the 
matter. After supper that evening I boldly asked him if it was 
true that the Jews had killed the Christian God. 

The question displeased him. He began shoving the crumbs 
on the table in front of him away with the back of his hand, 
an infallible sign of after-dinner petulance. After a long silence 
he said: "A foolish question! How could anyone know? It is 
even doubtful if there ever was such a person. In any case he's 
had his revenge. Yes, yes he's had his revenge!" 

Some time later, on a Saturday, he brought back with him 
the rabbi of the synagogue for a schnapps and a morsel of 
herring and bread. The rabbi was a thin old man with a long 
white beard that completely hid his collar and tie. He stayed 
awhile, and then from an open window in the front room I 
watched him leave our house and walk slowly and feebly 
away. He had not proceeded a hundred feet when two boys 
who were walking on the other side of the street picked up a 
handful of stones and began pelting the old man. I ran down- 
stairs and out of the house, grabbed a handful of stones and 
pebbles, and attacked the boys in turn. The old man, holding 
his hands to his head, accelerated his walk, but did not other- 
wise appear surprised. I fought them until the old man had 

A Connecticut Interlude / 227 

safely turned into North Main Street and was lost from view. 
By then the battle was going against me. I turned back and 
ran home zigzag fashion, to confuse the aim of my assailants. 
Once in the house, I slammed the front door behind me and 
turned the key. After shouting: "Come out of your house, 
sheeny!" several times, the boys went on their way, leaving 
me breathless and bewildered by the wanton cruelty I had 

Now for the first time since we had come to America I felt 
alien. I had thought that, with the exception of the hostile 
edge of the New York ghetto, America was my home. I could 
not mind being called a sheeny in Cherry Street, because 
Cherry Street represented a small, self-contained, violently 
antisocial perimeter that threatened me only when I invaded 
it. But to be called a sheeny in Burton Street obliged me to re- 
examine the image of America I had pieced together from the 
security of the New York ghetto and from the absence of any 
racial discrimination in the books of Horatio Alger. I had seen 
two boys attempt to stone an old man, seemingly because he 
had a beard. But I had met Christian men with beards who 
walked the streets of Waterbury unmolested. It was not, 
then, the beard of the rabbi that had offended his assailants, 
but the Jew behind it. It was clear that in Burton Street, and 
no doubt in every other street in Waterbury except those in 
Jerusalem, Jews were not considered Americans. The boys I 
had battled did not consider them Americans, nor did my 
friend and neighbor Chubb. 

On the other hand, Chubb' s mother and sisters did not 
seem to mind that I was a Jew. They were invariably kind to 
me. Our neighbor with the lovely wife and two little children 
was civil. But who could tell what they really thought of me, 
of all Jews? I looked back with longing to my former un- 
clouded life on East Broadway and in Rutgers Place. There 
Jews with beards walked not only with impunity, but with 
pride in their ancestry and beliefs. Rabbis were respected, 


even by the children of anarchists and atheists. Yet I could not 
conceal from myself that but for the difference in the status of 
Jews, Waterbury was a more desirable place to live in than the 
ghetto, especially in summer. There had been nothing in the 
ghetto so pleasant as the window-boxes and little flower 
gardens on Burton Street, and the great horse-chestnut tree in 
our front yard. When it rained softly in the evening, I sat on 
the porch alone and heard the drops make their silent way 
through the foliage. The tree stood breathless, absorbed in 
filling up every pore and vein to meet the onslaught of the 
morning's thirsty sun. Instead of fetid tenements, there were 
individual houses set at a polite distance one from another. 
Windows were curtained, and at night front parlors were lit 
softly and deeply by gas lamps with shades of subdued colors 
over them. 

There were even more beautiful streets than Burton Street, 
lovelier and wider, where the very rich lived in large, spread- 
ing houses with flat tin roofs painted black or green. Some had 
glass-enclosed porches and high towers. These mansions were 
set in the midst of expansive lawns and gardens, and many of 
them had drive-ins for carriages. On one leafy street stood St. 
Margaret's School for girls, a beautiful, rambling, wooden 
structure, more like a rich home than a school. There, I 
learned, young ladies not only were educated, but were resi- 
dent eight months of the year. It was aptly called a "board- 
ing"-school. I marveled at the expense these young ladies 
were to their parents, and I also wondered at the young ladies' 
willingness to leave their homes and families (they came from 
many states), for they must surely be homesick. I should be 
homesick away from home. 

From Chubb I learned that America was full of boarding- 
schools for boys, and that he himself would prefer a military 
academy to the educational schools that prepared the wealthy 
youth of the land for college. On hearing this, my mind went 

A Connecticut Interlude / 229 

back to the gang wars on the East Side, and I recalled the 
pleasures of battle and the adulation of my fellow warriors. 
Perhaps Chubb was right! A military academy was the proper 
school for a courageous American boy. I was curious about 
what such military preparation might lead to, and Chubb said 
to a military career, and went on to tell me about West Point, 
which produced both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant 
and other great generals and presidents. Chubb said that it was 
easy to get detailed information about the country's military 
boarding-schools. All one had to do was to send a postcard, and 
a booklet would arrive by return mail. He showed me a page 
he had cut out of some magazine listing military academies. 
I read fascinating names and places, and then and there I de- 
cided on a military career. I dispatched penny postcards to 
four institutions whose advertisements caught my imagina- 
tion, and in a week there arrived, addressed to me, four book- 
lets, profusely illustrated and completely informative. I had 
not written to West Point. I had heard with a sinking of the 
heart of the difficulties attendant on an appointment there. In 
any case, West Point lay far ahead in the future. It had, per- 
force, to wait on my graduation from a preparatory military 

I devoured the contents of these booklets in my hide-out. In 
a few days I knew practically by heart the terrain, the build- 
ings, the requirements for entrance, the fees, the courses of 
study, the privileges, the prohibitions, the number and dates of 
the holidays, and even the signed endorsements of famous 
military figures in the United States Army. But I found each 
of the academies so glamorous in its own special way that I 
began to despair of ever making a definite choice. 

One school situated close to the field of Gettysburg in 
Pennsylvania appeared irresistible for its historical associa- 
tion. The booklet asked parents to evaluate the effect of such 
proximity to the field that became the turning-point in the 
Civil War and was the scene of President Lincoln's famous ad- 


dress. As a Northerner I felt I was obligated to choose the 
Gettysburg Academy. I found myself attracted also, however, 
to the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. This school, 
its prospectus pointed out, was situated quite close to a famous 
academy over which General Robert E. Lee had presided until 
his death. Virginia sounded deeply romantic. Virginia had 
been, I hastened to inform myself, the head and front of a Lost 
Cause. This in itself drew me to it, even though the cause that 
was lost had for its misguided objective the perpetuation of 
Negro slavery. I weighed the two alternatives: on the one 
hand, years of residence in a Northern academy in the in- 
spiring atmosphere of the Great Emancipator; on the other, 
the prospect of pupilage in the romantic terrain of the de- 
feated yet lovable champion of slavery, Robert E. Lee. 

I was particularly taken with the Virginia school's in- 
sistence on discipline, perhaps for the perverse reason that I 
was prone to resist any form of coercion. Then, too, I was 
attracted by the enumeration of a long list of prohibitions, 
defiance of which could bring about the instant dismissal of 
the student. Among these one stood out for its noble, though 
vague, implications. /'Conduct unbecoming a gentleman," the 
prospectus stated, "will not be tolerated." ''Conduct unbe- 
coming a gentleman" invoked in a single phrase all the things 
that the heroes in Horatio Alger and the Liberty Boys of "76 
scrupulously avoided. It was, of course, unthinkable that I 
should ever be found guilty of it. The future seemed clear 
enough. Upon graduation from the Staunton Military Acad- 
emy, I would apply for an appointment at West Point. I in- 
quired the name of the Congressman from Water bury with a 
view of making a direct application to him at once, and to sug- 
gest that he stand by for the time, about six years hence, when 
I should be ready for admission to the national military school. 

If I entertained the thought that a military career would 
lead to the Presidency, as it had in several instances in Ameri- 
can history, it was not for long. Chubb told me, with ill- 

A Connecticut Interlude z 2 3 1 

concealed satisfaction, that no foreign-born male was eligible 
for that supreme office. There appeared to be nothing in our 
Constitution, however, to prevent the rise of a foreign-born 
American to the highest rung of the military ladder. I would, 
perforce, content myself with a lieutenant-generalship. The 
pay, I learned, would be ample, with a suitable residence, 
an orderly, a saddle-horse found, besides the privilege of 
purchasing victuals at the army stores at cost. Half of my pay 
I would give my wife for the upkeep of the household, and the 
other half I would distribute among my mother and my sisters, 
Hannah and Molly. Hannah, as the neediest, would receive a 
larger share than either my mother or Molly. 

Hannah never complained, but Molly's letters from New 
York hinted at an unusual slump in the fresco-painting busi- 
ness. Week after week Molly voluntarily filled up the hole in 
the household economy. Hannah accepted this additional aid 
with the utmost reluctance, and her husband breezily promised 
to return the money as soon as the art of interior decorating 
took a turn for the better, a direction that to him appeared 
imminent. Though I respected my brother-in-law's art, I 
longed to free rny sister Hannah from its business vagaries. 

The brochures from the military academies did more than 
satisfy my curiosity about the practical aspects of military 
training. As they were In the form of booklets, sometimes 
bound in cardboard, they were, in a sense, books, and there- 
fore, also In a sense, literature. I had appropriated a small un- 
used storeroom in the attic. This I had fitted up as a den sacred 
to myself and not to be entered by my mother, my little sister, 
or even Molly when she came to visit us. I had nailed an old 
egg crate to one wall, which I pretended was a beautiful book- 
case. My library was as yet negligible, consisting of half a 
dozen paper-bound Horatio Algers and a pile of 'Liberty Boys 
of '76 which I had brought with me from New York. The 
Liberty Boys I stood up erect in the crate as if they were real 
books, and to these I now added the prospectuses of the mili- 


tary academies. But there still remained a whole shelf to fill 
up. At this point Chubb, who, while not a reader of books 
himself, took a friendly interest in filling my bookcase, sug- 
gested that a postcard to the U. S. Department of Agriculture 
would result in my being placed on that Department's mailing 
list. At Chubb* s dictation I dispatched the following card to 
the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington: 

Dear Sir: 

Please send me all your books on Agriculture. I am 
a farmer. 

Yours truly, 

S. Chotzinoff 

79 Burton St., Waterbury, Conn. 

To my delight the postman one morning delivered a weighty 
bundle addressed specifically to me. Inside I found a number of 
pamphlets on many aspects of farming, and a large, beautifully 
bound volume entitled, if I remember, The Apple in America. 
The book was more than three hundred pages long, the paper 
heavy and shiny, and the print large. But what pleased me most 
were the twenty-five plates illustrating the Apple in America 
in actual colors. Some plates featured a single apple, others an 
apple sliced in two, with the black pits showing. So realistic 
were the apples in color, rotundity, and texture that my 
mother swore she could have mistaken the pictures for the 
real fruit. Some time later, and quite unsolicited, the Secretary 
of Agriculture sent me two companion volumes : The Pear in 
America and The Peach of the same territory. I desecrated the 
books by cutting out three plates an apple, a pear, and a 
peach. These I fiamed in pieces of wood I picked up in a new 
tenement my brothers were building, and hung up on the wall 
opposite the bookcase. I now could boast of both an art col- 
lection and a library. 

My great objective was eventually to eliminate all paper- 
covered volumes and replace them with "real" books bound 

A Connecticut Interlude / 233 

in cardboard, cloth, or leather. My taste, too, was again under- 
going a change. Rarely now did I take down an old Horatio 
Alger to reread the history of the average, indigent American 
boy. The Liberty Boys of '76 languished, erect, on my book- 
shelves. My reading for a while was factual, and I was ab- 
sorbed in the publications of the Department of Agriculture. 
At my fingertips I had complete information about every 
variety of fruit grown in the United States. At night I was kept 
awake by reviewing, mentally, the contents of the pro- 
spectuses of the country's military schools. At the same time 
I was conscious of a hiatus in my life, formerly occupied by 
books of the spirit. 

When school began in September, this lack was partly 
modified, for I was placed in the sixth grade, and our readers 
contained much poetry and some short stories appropriate to 
our powers of comprehension. I was particularly impressed 
with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I committed to 
memory. I marveled at its economy of language. It seemed an 
easy poem to have written. Yet if/ had written it, it would 
have had to be twice as long. I recalled Tennyson's Enoch 
Arden, over which I had wept in Mr. Strassmeir's class, and 
I compared it with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, to the 
disadvantage of the former. 

It was a new world of poetry that Coleridge opened up. 
There seemed to be a pictorial, emotional, or spiritual reason 
for each word in the poem. To my delight, the poet eschewed 
precise information. Where Tennyson had told us in detail 
about Philip and Annie and Enoch, their background, their 
bringing up, and their relation to each other, Coleridge struck 
out simple images, leaving me to fill in or speculate upon the 
details as I chose. I was overwhelmed by the boldness of the 
opening lines: "It is an ancient Mariner, and he stoppeth one 
of three." / should have said: "He is an ancient Mariner," 
not "#." But how much better "It" was! And how imagina- 
tive the lack of ordinary identification in "one of three"! And 


a moment later, when the identification comes, it is as vague 
as the previous "one of three," yet more impressive for its 
vagueness than if we had been told his name and history. 

And who was the Ancient Mariner? I never knew, except 
that he was "one" who survived an eerie, soul-searing voyage 
in strange seas, and returned with loving-kindness in his heart 
for his fellow men, "both man and bird and beast ... all 
things both great and small." And to my astonishment my 
eyes filled with tears at the mention of "him who died on 
cross." I hardly dared to dwell on the lonely image so star- 
tlingly placed before me. Could a Jew permit himself to weep 
over "him who died on cross"? Because of him, Jews in count- 
less numbers had suffered and died. I myself had seen them 
suffer, and I had suffered to see them reviled and stoned. Yet 
the crucified image hovered before me and brought on tears. 
Perhaps I ought to find out more about "him"! "He" could 
not know what crimes had been committed in his name! If he 
could know, he must disapprove, else why should my eyes 
fill with tears when I thought of him? I must find out about 
him, secretly, of course, why "he died on cross." I could not 
ask Chubb, who was always hinting that I was, by associa- 
tion, responsible for his death. But I could read "their" Bible 
and find out. 

On South Main Street, close to the railroad station, stood 
the public library, a lovely, dark-red, ivy-covered brick build- 
ing. I passed by it often and wondered who that Howard 
Bronson was who had given his name to it, as a large plaque 
near the entrance door testified. I walked in boldly one day 
and discovered to my surprise a different situation from that 
which I had known in the Aguilar Free Library in the Edu- 
cational Alliance on East Broadway. I found myself in an 
enormous room lined with books, and on the floor several 
long tables and chairs. Through another door I saw another 
room with countless rows of heavily-laden bookcases. Boys 
and girls, men and women browsed among the shelves as freely 

A Connecticut Interlude / 235 

as if they were in their own homes. They selected a book, or 
several books, and walked over to a desk near the door, where 
a kind-looking gray-haired lady stamped their cards and con- 
versed amiably with each borrower. I waited until the gray- 
haired lady was alone; then I politely inquired if I might look 
at a Christian Bible. She gave me a pleasant smile and said of 
course I might. She went to a bookshelf, found the Bible, and 
invited me to sit down at one of the oblong tables and read it. 
But when I opened the book to the first page, I was startled 
to find in English the very words I had studied in cheder: "In 
the beginning God created ..." 

I took the book back to the lady at the desk and said that I 
thought she had misunderstood me, that she had given me 
"our" Bible, not " theirs." She looked at me oddly and then 
leafed the pages to a place toward the back which read "The 
New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," and 
said that what I was looking for began there. I took the book 
to the table and began to read. I felt afraid. I looked around to 
see if I was being observed. What would my father say if he 
was told I had been reading the forbidden book, the forbidden 
name with the bold claim of "our Lord and Saviour"? No one 
was looking at me. I could read on and no one would know. I 
must find out about him, who he was, where he came from, 
whom he had saved. 

As I read I could hardly believe my eyes. He was "the son 
of David," it said, "the son of Abraham" (but, I realized, 
only in the sense of being a descendant) . For "Abraham begat 
Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob." I counted forty-two genera- 
tions between David and him. With such an important He- 
brew lineage, why did Jews proscribe him? His life had been 
exemplary, his death noble and pitiful. Many things baffled 
me as I read the Gospel according to St. Matthew. What was 
the Holy Ghost? Why should his death save "us"? Why did 
God permit his crucifixion? But I forgot such perplexities in 
the "personal" beauty of the tragedy, in the vivid details, in 


the unflickering radiance of the central figure. I closed the 
book in a ferment of conflicting emotions. I thought of my 
grandfather, and I felt sure that he would have understood 
Jesus Christ. For his heart, too, went out to pitiful people and 
he had never thought of himself at all. I would not be afraid 
to tell my grandfather about him. Perhaps even my mother 
would understand! But I would have to think twice about con- 
fiding in her; for all her goodness, there was no denying that 
she was an uneducated person. I felt that only an educated per- 
son like myself could rise above prejudice and custom to un- 
derstand him. It was true that she condoned my breaking the 
Sabbath with my playing the piano. But could she consider 
dispassionately a point of view that my father would regard 
as sheer apostasy? It was hard to tell. I must wait for a favor- 
able moment to test her. In the meantime I must learn more 
about Christ and Christianity. 

With this in mind, I went back to the Howard . Bronson 
Library to read more in the Christian Bible. But what I found 
was only a retelling of the story I had read, with some unim- 
portant differences. After finishing the Gospel according to 
St. Mark, I decided that the reports of the remaining two 
disciples would not enlighten me further. Outside, on the 
curb, I saw a pushcart overflowing with books. A sign on a 
stick advised that the books had been discarded by the library 
because of age, and the price was two cents a volume. I picked 
up one at random and opened it at the title page. Oliver Twist^ 
it said, the History of a Foundling, by Charles Dickens, Es- 
quire. On the opposite page was a drawing. It showed a lit- 
tle boy sitting in a comfortable chair in a pleasant room, 
absorbed in a picture book spread out on his knee. A window 
looked out on a garden. I caught sight of a man peering at the 
boy from outside this window. He was an evil-looking man 
with a thin, swarthy face, a long, sharp nose, and gimlet eyes. 
He wore a large felt hat and an old-fashioned cape. He had 
evidently come a long way. His presence, I felt, boded no 

A Connecticut Interlude / 237 

good for the little boy. Underneath the picture it said "Oliver 
Is visited by the Jew." The evil-looking man was the Jew. 
Therefore the boy, Oliver, must be a Christian. I was aware of 
the racial juxtaposition of the two. Apparently the hero of a 
story, being kind and good and brave as in the books of 
Horatio Alger, or merely young and innocent, as in Oliver 
Twist, could not possibly be a Jew. Only a villain could 
properly be one. Yet I knew Jews were good that is, with a 
few exceptions. I had never met an evil Jew, one who looked 
as crafty and sinister as the man in the picture. 

I felt that in making this character a Jew, Charles Dickens, 
Esquire, the author, was being unfair and unjust. There could 
be no possible resemblance between this terrible man and me, 
though we were of the same race. Still, in spite of the author's 
bias against Jews, I was taken with the mystery of the re- 
lationship between the man and the boy in the illustration, and 
I longed to read the book without delay. Fortunately, I had 
two cents in my pocket. And, the purchase made, I began 
walking slowly home, reading as I went. It was my first 
encounter with realism in literature, and I found it both re- 
pellent and absorbing. Here was poverty in a guise that I knew 
only too well, though the settings and the characters were un- 
familiar. Years later when I read in Cranford that one of the 
characters became so absorbed in reading an installment of a 
Dickens novel as he walked in the streets that he was run over 
by a horse and killed, I thought of my walk from the library 
to Burton Street with my eyes glued to the pages of Oliver 
Twist, and I marveled that I had not been run over at some 
street-crossing. Once in my house, I closeted myself in my 
attic room and read Oliver Twist until my mother called to 
me to come to supper. 

As I read, I forgot my unhappiness about the author's un- 
fairness to Jews and gave myself up wholly to the story and its 
gallery of strange and fascinating people. I was relieved to 
find Christian villains along with the Jew, Fagin. Bill Sikes 


was evil and cruel, though less subtle than Fagin, and Monks 
was even more forbidding and certainly as crafty. I was de- 
lighted with the humor of some of the characters. I had never 
before encountered such humor in books. I laughed till I cried 
at the antics of the Artful Dodger and his haughty bearing be- 
fore the police officer: "Were you re-dressing yourself to me, 
my man?" The author seemed to know people most inti- 
mately. He also knew how to relieve the reader's tension just 
when it was at the breaking-point. When my eyes swam with 
tears and my heart ached unbearably at a crisis in Oliver's 
misfortunes, the next chapter would set me laughing at the 
pomposity of Mr. Bumble or the drolleries of the Artful 
Dodger. When, happy and satisfied with the outcome of the 
tale, I closed the book and looked up at the paper-covered 
Algers on my bookshelves, I realized that Charles Dickens 
knew life and people in a more comprehensive way than did 
the author of The Erie Train Boy. I saw that both writers had a 
passion for justice, but that there was an undefinable warmth 
in Dickens that was missing in Alger. I realized that Oliver 
had not the drive and ambition of the Erie Train Boy. And I 
wondered if perhaps this very lack made Oliver more attrac- 
tive, more heart-warming, more living, more real! 

The more I compared the two authors, the more startling 
became their differences to me. Dickens knew, and through 
him I knew, too, the importance of language. Hitherto I had 
not been conscious of it. Horatio Alger, I was forced to con- 
cede, was not. I was eager to read more of Dickens, and also 
more of poets like Coleridge, who also used language in a 
special way. 

Yet if I should decide to become a writer, I thought, I 
would favor poetry over prose. I realized it was the more 
difficult medium of expression. For one thing, one had always 
to be on a lofty plane of thought and feeling in poetry. I 
should like to be aways on a lofty plane. Poetry permitted no 
relaxation of thought, and the necessity of rhyming interfered 

A Connecticut Interlude / 239 

with one's natural flow of words. Another obstacle in writing 
poetry was the need of a knowledge of horticulture. Almost 
all poems spoke familiarly of flowers. But I knew very little 
about them. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, I would be a 

One afternoon during a study period in school, I wrote my 
first poem. I called it "Evening." It had six stanzas of four 
lines each. Several times I was forced by the exigencies of 
rhyming to change a thought or an image, but I finally suc- 
ceeded in recalling and conveying the emotions I felt as I sat 
on my stoop underneath the horse-chestnut tree in the quiet of 
a starry night. I was enchanted with the poem, and tears came 
to my eyes at the beauty and felicity of some of my lines. 
"The flowerets," I had written, "sadly droop their heads." I 
was pleased with having chosen "flowerets" instead of 
"flowers," which would have been prose. The final couplet, 
besides being unusually lofty in sentiment, had a rather 
dexterous rhyme: "And yet to them [the flowerets] a Hope 
was given, a Hope as if sent down from heaven." Miss Quinn, 
my teacher, seeing me occupied in writing instead of studying, 
came up behind me and read the poem over my shoulder. 
Miss Quinn was redheaded and uncongenial. She asked me if I 
had copied the poem out of a book. When I said that it was 
my own, she gave me an incredulous look and walked away. 
Later, when school was out, I showed the poem to some of my 
classmates and was most gratified by their praise. At home I 
read it to my mother. Knowing only a few English words, she 
could not, of course, understand it. But she was touched by the 
tremor in my voice as I read, and the tears came to her eyes as 
they did to mine. She said it "sounded" good, especially the 
end words. She thought I should make copies and send them to 
Hannah and Molly in New York. 

One day, accompanying my mother to the Woolworth's 
Five and Ten Cent Store, I walked idly among the counters 


while she rummaged around for needles and for thread of 
certain colors she wanted. Near the entrance on East Main 
Street was a wall lined with shelves on which stood rows of 
books, all bound in light pink boards. They were priced at ten 
cents a volume. My heart leaped at the sight of so many 
books, so uniform in color and size. I reached up for one and 
opened it. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, I read 
on the cover. It was the most provocative title I had thus far 
encountered, and I hastily turned to chapter one to see if I 
could find enlightenment there. Nothing could have excited me 
more than what I read in the very first paragraph: "Squire 
Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen 
having asked me to write down the whole particulars about 
Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping 
nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only 
because there Is still treasure not yet lifted [italics mine] , I take 
up my pen in the year of Grace 17, and go back to the time 
when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn, and the brown 
old seaman, with the sabre cut [italics mine], first took up his 
lodging under our roof' 7 

At this point my mother, having completed her purchase, 
saw me and came toward me. I replaced the book and we left 
the store. I could hardly wait for her to enter our house before 
I ran back at full speed to East Main Street and Woolworth's, 
but when I looked for Treasure Island, it was not on the 
shelves. Someone must have bought it during the half-hour it 
took me to go home and return. I was utterly disconsolate, 
and was deciding to run over to the Bronson Library to see if 
there was a copy there, when the title of another book at- 
tracted my attention. Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, 
the author of the missing Treasure Island. Perhaps Kidnapped 
was a sequel, and I could learn what became of the brown old 
seaman with the sabre cut! It wasn't. It was quite another 
story, but in its way as exciting as Treasure Island. And while 
I was deep in the opening chapter of Kidnapped, a store official 

A Connecticut Interlude z 241 

came along trundling a little wagon full of the pink volumes. 
He filled the gaps in the bookshelves and left. To my delight, 
he had replaced Treasure Island. Then and there I knew that 
the two books must be my very own or I would never be 
happy again. 

I could perhaps borrow them from the Bronson Library, 
though as yet I had not filled out a library card. But it was not 
alone an eagerness to know the outcome of both stories that 
possessed me. Indeed, I did not wish to know the outcome too 
quickly. If I owned the books I would limit myself to reading 
one chapter a day, the better to savor and prolong the great 
adventures and the probably startling denouement implied 
in the succinct titles. My passion at the moment was to own 
the books, and without delay. To buy them, if I could some- 
how borrow the money, would mean delay, and I dared not 
take the chance of the books being sold out completely beyond 
replacement by the storeman with the little wagon. I would 
steal the books. I saw no alternative. And someday when I had 
twenty cents I would pay the store and explain the nature of 
the delayed transaction. They would understand that I was 
not an ordinary thief, else I would have stolen chocolate- 
covered walnuts, which I never tired of eating. But I must 
take the utmost care not to be caught, for I should then not 
only lose the books, but render my family miserable and 
myself liable to imprisonment in jail or the reform school near 
Watertown which Chubb had pointed out to me on one of our 
walks. My desire to own the books outweighed all con- 
siderations of possible exposure and punishment, I set about 
planning the theft for the following day, which would be 
Saturday. There being no school, I should have at my disposal 
unlimited time. I would need to wear my overcoat, though 
the days were warm, for I could slip the books between it and 
my jacket. I would then saunter out with an air of innocence, 
my right arm pressed to my side to hold the concealed books in 
place until I should be safely out of the store. 


I had no appetite at supper that night and ate very little. 
My mother felt my head, thought it warm, and put me to bed 
early. But 1 could not sleep even after everyone else had 
retired and the house was dark. And once I felt sick and had to 
rush to the toilet to vomit. But I was careful to make as little 
noise as possible, so as not to wake my mother. I lay with 
eyes open in the dark, and I saw myself in Woolworth's store 
at the bookshelves, waiting for the moment when I would be 
the only one there. Suddenly I imagined I stood at the gate of 
the reform school near W^atertown, a policeman at either side 
of me. Then the scene changed to my attic room, and there on 
the shelf on the wall stood my two coveted pink volumes erect 
between Oliver Twist and The Apple in America. 

Notwithstanding the agonies and hallucinations of that 
interminable night, my determination to carry out my plan 
never faltered. And soon after the opening of the store in the 
morning, I was on East Main Street, looking casually into 
shop windows and passing the great doors of Woolworth's 
with no apparent interest in the shop. I walked to the end of 
the street, crossed to the other side, and from a sheltered 
doorway watched customers go in and out of the five-and- 
ten-cent store. I was waiting for a lull, and about noon it came. 
I left my position and began to walk, and to allay the suspi- 
cions of anyone who might have seen me in the doorway and 
wondered at my loitering there, I made several detours and 
came into East Main by way of North Main. 

When I entered the store, there was no one at the book- 
shelves. I made my way to the hardware department at the 
extreme end of the store, looking around for an article I pre- 
tended I could not find, and walked determinedly toward the 
entrance. There I paused as if I had accidentally caught sight 
of the pink books on the shelves. Leisurely I took down 
Treasure Island and glanced through it. From the corner of my 
eye I saw that I was unobserved. I closed the book and slipped 
it inside my overcoat. No one had noticed me. I took down 
Kidnapped, perused it for a while and slipped it, exactly as I 

A Connecticut Interlude / 243 

had planned, under my coat, not over Treasure Island, but on a 
level with it, so that my chest should not bulge suspiciously. I 
pressed my left arm against my body just below Treasure 
Island, and with my right hand held together the two ends of 
my stand-up overcoat collar. I felt certain the books could 
not be seen from above or slip out below. I then walked 
slowly and calmly out of the store, looking neither to right 
nor to left. 

Outside, I paused a moment to look at some of the wares 
in the window, then proceeded slowly toward North Main 
Street. When I turned the corner, I broke into a desperate 
run. As I ran, a passage from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 
came suddenly to mind, spelling out my agonized plight: 

Like one that on a lonesome road 

Doth walk in fear and dread, 

And having once turned round walks on, 

And turns no more his head; 

Because he knows, a frightful fiend 

Doth close behind him tread. 

I did not stop until I gained my attic room. There I hid the 
books in an old suitcase, which I then concealed in a closet. 
That done, I ran downstairs and took up a position on the front 
stoop, where I could survey the entire street. 

I sat quiet and frightened, and pretended not to notice 
passers-by. I dreaded the possible sudden appearance of a 
policeman, but I also knew about "plain-clothes" men. Any 
ordinary-looking passer-by might well be one of them. Once a 
man who walked past our house rapidly stopped suddenly, 
turned, and came back. To my horror, he opened our wicket 
gate and advanced on me. I sat paralyzed with fear and waited 
helplessly for the blow to fall. But when he spoke he asked 
the way to the Brass and Foundry Company. In gratitude for 
this reprieve, I vowed never again to play the piano on 
Saturdays and holy days and not to take so much as a drop of 
water on Yom Kippur. 


At noon my father returned from schul, and my mother 
called out to me to come to dinner. But though cholent (a 
potato stew) was my favorite dish, I dared not leave my 
post on the stoop, and I pleaded a headache and want of 
appetite. Toward evening I felt less apprehensive. On Satur- 
days the stores closed at nine. I gave myself an hour's leeway 
before I could feel it reasonably safe to retire. Yet lying in the 
dark, I fell a prey to the hallucinations of the night before. 
And in the morning I felt really unwell and was unable to get 
out of bed. My mother was much agitated and considered 
calling the doctor. But my father said that I must have eaten 
chazerei (unkosher food) and ordered castor oil. I languished, 
queasy and uncomfortable, for two days, and one night I grew 
delirious and my mother said I spoke wildly about policemen 
and prison. But I soon was quite well, and when I went out of 
doors again, I felt free of all fears and did not even bother to 
scrutinize passers-by. Before another week had passed I felt 
secure enough to look into the Woolworth store window, 
though I could not summon enough courage to enter. 

That same night I took the pink books out of the suitcase 
and placed them on my shelves. As I had expected, they looked 
beautiful standing erect, flanked by a fat volume on either side. 
Unfortunately, I could not boast of my new acquisitions, nor 
show them to anyone, at least for a long time. Each morning 
before going off to school I paid them a visit to assure myself 
that they were still there. During school hours I daydreamed 
about them and was often Inattentive to what Miss Quinn was 
telling the class. At home on late afternoons I read a little in 
each book, but not too much, for I had determined to keep a 
tight curb on my curiosity and to dole myself out only two or 
three pages a day. It was months before I finished the books. 
By then the world of Jim Hawkins and David Balfour had 
become so actual for me that I could not long bear to be out- 
side it; and a few days later I took the pink books down from 
their shelf and began to read again from the beginning. 


Connecticut Interlude 2 



-HE Webster Grammar School was a pleasanter 
place than No. 2 on Henry Street. It stood on a hill on the 
edge of town, and around it were big trees, a variety of 
shrubs, and large lawns to play on. Recess time came between 
eleven and eleven fifteen in the morning, when the whole 
school was let out at the same time. We played games, and 
some of the older boys paired off with the girls. There had 
been no girls in No. 2, and no one had missed them. But now, 
unaccountably, it was agreeable to have them in one's class, 
to talk to them during recess, and sometimes to walk home 
with one of them after school. 

Yet, for all its pleasant surroundings, the Webster School 
was not exciting. For one thing, there were no teachers with 
the colorful personalities of Mr. Strassmeir and Mr. Silver. 
Unlike No. 2, where promotions took place every half year, 


grades in Webster School were on a yearly basis. In my 
three years at Webster I had only three teachers. I remember 
Miss Quinn better than the other two because she was my 
last teacher there and because of her red hair and her aloof- 
ness from the three or four Jewish pupils in her class. It is 
true that she called her pupils by their first names, a practice 
that should have pleased me. At No. 2 I had been Chotzinoff, 
young as I was. This cold appellation had been an insurmount- 
able bar to the intimacy I longed to establish with Mr. 
Strassmeir and Mr. Silver. Miss Quinn called me Samuel, yet 
she managed to make my first name sound as impersonal as 
Chotzinoff. It was Dorothy Wiener, a Jewish girl who sat in 
front of me, who first called my attention to Miss Quinn's 
frigidity to her Jewish pupils. On the day before Rosh 
Hashonah, Miss Quinn told the class that those who preferred 
to stay at home on Jewish holidays could do so and would not 
be marked absent. At recess Dorothy spoke bitterly to me 
about Miss Quinn's choice of the word "preferred," and I had 
to agree that the word was unfortunate in that it put our 
observance of an important holy day on an elective basis. 
Miss Quinn never told the class that those who "preferred" 
to observe Easter or Christmas would suffer no punishment. 
Dorothy also asked me to note how often the Jewish pupils 
were made to stay after school, while others who might have 
been just as guilty of an infraction of the rules got off scot- 
free; this was also true. Yet I could have forgiven Miss 
Quinn's hostility if she had shown a passion for art and 
socialism like Mr. Strassmeir, or for individuality and con- 
servative patriotism like Mr. Silver. 

Miss Quinn was animated by passion, but I could not 
determine its nature. She moved about the classroom in a 
state of secret, pent-up agitation that never came to a head. 
She had authority, and taught us with efficiency in what 
seemed to me even then a correct and standardized way. But 
she brought no illumination to bear on the subject that inter- 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 247 

ested me most, literature. Where Mr. Strassmeir would have 
directed his imagination like a searchlight to a poem or a story 
and would have exposed under-surface beauties and called 
attention to subtle expedients of poets and writers in their 
pursuit of "effect," Miss Quinn was content to follow the 
story-line relentlessly, as if the "story" alone was the aim and 
end of art. 

I could not love Miss Quinn, perhaps because I felt that she 
could not love me. But her unfaltering command of her powers 
as an administrator impressed me greatly and forced me to 
admire her. She seemed never in doubt as to what to do. She 
never hesitated in meting out her cold censure or praise. 
There was even something magnificent in the assurance with 
which she disregarded the decisive elements of poetry and 
imaginative prose. Nothing ever caught her unawares. Her 
decisions followed automatically on events, sometimes terri- 
fyingly so. When Howard Haskins, one of the boys, failed 
to appear in class two days running, she dispatched two fel- 
low pupils to his house to find out the cause. And when they 
reported that Howard was ill of diphtheria, she sent the boys 
instantly back to their own homes to be quarantined for their 
own protection and that of the class. And when news came a 
week later that Howard had died, Miss Quinn commanded 
the class to bow its head in silence for a minute out of respect 
to the "departed." When we had done that, she said that the 
class must send flowers and that she expected each of us to 
bring five cents in the morning to pay for them. In the mean- 
time she would herself lay out the money for the flowers, 
which, she said, should be roses with long stems, and she 
would inscribe a card saying: "To Howard, from his sorrow- 
ful friends of the Eighth Grade." 

Miss Quinn's quick and realistic response to so disturbing 
an event cushioned the shock of it, at least for me. At the same 
time I was lost in wonder at her seeming insensibility to 
death. "And 72011?," Miss Quinn said a moment later, "we 


must get on with our work. I am sure Howard would want us 
to." How could she, how could anyone be sure what Howard 
would want? After school we argued about that in the yard 
and on our way home. Some of the boys thought Miss Quinn 
should have dismissed us for the day. That, and not a minute 
of silence with heads bowed, would have been a "real" mark 
of respect for the dead. Others shouted and played tag and 
teased one another, quite as if nothing unusual had taken 
place. Only the girls huddled together and spoke self- 
consciously in whispers and looked at the ground a great deal. 

At home I created, as I had hoped, a sensation with the 
news of Howard's death. My mother grew pale, and her 
hands trembled as she helped me off with my jacket. Even my 
father was impressed, for he stopped reading his Talmud and 
said: "Takke?" in a doubting tone of voice, as if he wished I 
would deny what I had just said. I pretended a greater sadness 
than I felt, perhaps because I had not known Howard inti- 
mately. But the thought of death could always bring tears to 
my eyes. And the possibility, now so sensationally proved, 
that a boy of my age could die and be ruthlessly severed from 
his friends and his family forever was hardly to be borne. 

Miss Quinn had arranged for the class to attend Howard's 
funeral in a body. The class was to have a spokesman who 
would express our sense of sorrow to Howard's mother. It was 
well known that I excelled in elocution, and Miss Quinn, 
properly putting aside her prejudice against me in the interest 
of the class, selected me as spokesman without a moment's 
hesitation. She then gave me a little speech she had written, 
which I was to memorize and make to Mrs, Haskins later 
that afternoon. 

At four o'clock Miss Quinn marched us in a body to Mrs. 
Haskins's house. I walked at the head of the procession, 
trying to approximate the solemnity of the occasion by 
stooping a little and keeping my eyes on the ground. Indeed, 
notwithstanding my feeling of importance, I had been unable 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 249 

to shake off the oppressive reality of juvenile extinction, and 
the prospect of coming face to face with it in the house we 
were approaching filled me with dread. I was afraid of seeing 
the anguish on the faces of the dead boy's friends and relations 
and of hearing their lamentations. The East Side funerals I 
had witnessed had left with me painful memories, which 
sometimes induced a feeling of hopelessness that it might 
take hours or some new and exciting diversion to dissipate. 

Outside the Haskinses' house several closed carriages and a 
hearse stood at the curb. I had always avoided looking 
squarely at a hearse, and I quickly averted my eyes from the 
significant vehicle. Strangely enough, no sounds came from the 
house no screams, no loud words of stern comfort from 
outsiders, no wailings from the bereaved. Even before Miss 
Quinn could grasp the knob, the door was gently opened from 
the inside by an unseen hand. Miss Quinn had briefed us on 
what we were to do, and the class now followed her into the 

I was bewildered by what I saw there. A neatness, a silent 
decorum, as of a genteel, muted party in progress, prevailed. 
In the center the coffin stood on a raised platform draped in 
black. Close to the walls many people sat silently on little 
gilded chairs. And in the doorway stood Mr. and Mrs. 
Haskins, both dressed in black, waiting to receive us. They 
were not weeping. Mr. Haskins said: "Come in come in," 
encouragingly. Mrs. Haskins looked a little tired, but showed 
no outward signs of grief. She smiled at me rather kindly when 
I made my speech, thanked me in a sweet voice, and said we 
must have a last look at Howard, We filed around the coffin, 
and each of us stood a moment gazing into it. I was determined 
not to look, and I stood my moment with head bent and eyes 
closed. We then filed out as we had entered. Mr. and Mrs. 
Haskins were greeting an incoming line of visitors, and we 
had to pass through the door sideways to give them room. 

This, then, was a Christian funeral, the first I had ever 


seen. I had been brought up to believe that Christians had no 
feelings. On the face of it, what I had witnessed was sufficient 
to confirm my belief. Yet I couldn't be sure. Until that day I 
had never doubted that Mrs. Haskins loved her son. Once I 
had walked home with Howard, and his mother saw me from 
a window and invited me in. Howard was a frail, skinny boy, 
and his mother appeared much concerned about him. She 
made him drink a large glass of milk and eat a big slice of 
bread and butter against his wish. (In winter he would come to 
school bundled up to his ears, and we could see that he felt 
unhappy at being so carefully and warmly wrapped.) In her 
concern for her son Mrs. Haskins resembled my mother, who 
tried, but without success, to have me wear too many clothes 
in winter. And now Howard lay dead in the parlor, and his 
mother behaved strangely, just as if she didn't care. How 
different my mother would be in such a situation! She would 
shriek dreadfully and tear her garments and throw herself on 
the coffin and resist being dislodged. Indeed, I did not see how 
she could go on living without me. Sooner or later she would 
disappear, and be discovered one day lying dead on my grave. 

Yet it was impossible that Howard's mother should not love 
him. Could she have been dissembling in the parlor? Christians 
were curious people. They made no outcries. But sometimes 
even they must cry. Perhaps when she returned alone with 
Mr. Haskins from the cemetery Mrs. Haskins would cry. 
Perhaps they were like us, but only when they were alone. 
If so, I pitied Mrs. Haskins. For Howard was an only child, 
and she must have wanted to cry dreadfully. I knew then that 
under affliction it is easier to be a Jew than a Christian. 

For a while Howard's death robbed me of my feeling of 
unquestioned security about my own immortality. I had quite 
forgotten the playmate I had lost long ago in Russia, but now 
he came to mind, and I saw that death took no account of 
race or even intellectual superiority, and might not even spare 
a Jewish boy so sensitive and intelligent as I. What was the 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 251 

good, then, of all my daydreams, my appreciation of the 
lovely universe with its music and books, my awareness of my 
own tenderness and the tenderness of those I loved, if at any 
moment I could be made insensible to them forever! 

And, as if further to impress me with his undiscriminating 
power and to batter down the doors of my own fancied 
immunity, Death continued to strike flagrantly all about me. 
Diphtheria was everywhere in the city. Everywhere on 
houses one read the warning sign: "Under Quarantine." 
Cases appeared on Burton Street. Late one afternoon I saw 
the lady in the next house who loved flowers come out to 
water them. But she was alone, and when her husband ap- 
peared with his lunch box at the end of the street, she did not 
go to meet him, but waited for him to come to her. Together 
they silently entered the house. The next morning I saw the 
dreaded sign on their front door. I watched the doctor come 
and go, sometimes twice a day. And one morning as I came 
from the fire drill (the watchers had dwindled to myself and 
another boy) , I accosted our neighbor with the lunch box and 
asked him how his children were. He said: "Poorly, poorly," 
as if to himself, without looking up from the ground, and 
went on, his tall, skinny figure more bent than ever. That 
night, before I went to sleep, I prayed God to spare the man's 
children. But in the morning the man failed to appear. I ran to 
Chubb' s house, where I learned that both children had died 
during the night. I went to sit on my porch and tried to picture 
the desolation in the afflicted house, whose whiteness, re- 
lieved by the pink of geraniums and the deep blue of pansies 
in the window-boxes, now sparkled in the morning sun. As at 
the Haskinses', not a sound came from the house. 

Two days later I watched the funeral from a window of my 
house. There were fewer people than I had seen at the 
Haskinses', and only one carriage. When the husband and 
wife came out of the house, I saw that they were not crying! 
They were both dressed up, he in a spring overcoat and a 


black derby, she in a suit and hat, with a dark veil over her 
face. She carried a bunch of geraniums. When she came to the 
carriage door she faltered as if she had accidentally missed a 
step, and her husband raised her up and helped her in and got 
in after her. Strange people, as strange as the Haskinses! 

The sign was removed from their house, and the next 
morning the man passed the firehouse carrying his lunch box 
as usual. And that afternoon and for about a week the lady 
came out to water her flowers, and a little after six o'clock 
her husband came through the wicket gate and they went in- 
doors without saying a word. Then one day the sign went up 
again on their house. I was astonished to see it there, for I had 
been told that diptheria attacked only the young. But Chubb's 
mother said that this case was an exception, that the woman 
had taken her children's death so "hard 77 that she was left 
with little "resistance" to anything "in the air." I wondered 
how Chubb's mother could know all that. At the same time I 
was relieved to hear her say it. It strengthened my desire to 
believe that they were as human as w, though they perhaps 
regarded as a weakness any outward show of pain. Undaunted 
by my failure to save the little children, I again prayed God 
to spare their mother. I could not imagine what would become 
of the man without any family at all. 

The next morning I could not get out of bed, though I tried 
several times to do so. When I failed to come down to break- 
fast, my mother went to my room and found me "on fire," 
her standard phrase for a temperature. In view of the epidemic, 
my father himself went at once for the doctor, and when the 
doctor came and said, even before he examined me, that \ 
had caught the infection, my mother began to cry loudly in the 
Jewish fashion, and my father, looking, I thought, troubled 
himself, commanded her sternly not to be "a woman." I 
found this and the general commotion my illness induced 
around the house reassuring. In my lucid intervals (my mother 
in recalling her days of anxiety boldly stated, science to the 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 253 

contrary notwithstanding, that my temperature, fluctuating 
crazily, once reached the incredible height of 108 degrees), I 
took pleasure in the contemplation of the animated despair 
around me. When I passed the crisis and began to mend, I felt 
as if I had done something handsome and generous for my 
family. And I suffered myself to be interminably caressed, 
and my every want anticipated, with a show of impatience 
which I thought justified by the miracle of my survival and 
even becoming in one on whom the happiness of an entire 
family depended. 

For weeks I had been so preoccupied with myself that it 
was only when I was permitted to walk about the room that I 
remembered the lady next door and asked about her. My 
mother, with many asides adjuring the Almighty to keep 
such visitations from all Jewish homes, but especially from 
ours, told me that our neighbor had died the day after I was 
taken ill. Soon after the funeral her husband gave up his house 
and went to live in another town, my mother did not know 
which. A new Christian family had moved in, an old lady and 
her niece, also not young. They had brought a piano, on 
which the niece played occasionally. My mother said the 
niece played well, but she played only one piece, over and 
over again. 

I went to the window to look at the familiar house. The 
window-boxes were in the same place, and in them were the 
same flowers. The lawn was cut. The white clapboards of the 
house and the green tin roof glowed in the sun. Nothing had 
changed. Yet it seemed such a long time since I had watched 
the dead lady watering her flowers, the dead children playing 
near her on the lawn, and the tall, bent man with the tin 
lunch box in his hand walking toward them. To my surprise, 
I did not feel sad. The remembered picture caused my heart 
to contract with a delicious ache. It was so beautiful and 
right, like the memorable groupings and scenes in stories and 
poems that I had stored in my mind and could recall whenever 


I chose, thus experiencing at will the exquisite pang of my 
first coming upon them. From this storehouse I now conjured 
up several affecting moments as companion pieces to the 
once actual, now remembered, grouping on the lawn, and I 
was gratified by their xsthetic kinship. I recalled the picture 
of Evangeline and Gabriel Lajeunesse, their not meeting as, 
unaware of their proximity, they passed each other on a river 
on a starless night, to be lost to each other forever; of Enoch 
Arden, who, after witnessing the happiness of his wife, 
returned to his lonely room to live through his "dark hour" 
unseen; of Oliver Twist dozing off happily in his pleasant 
room in the country, unaware of the evil forces closing in on 
him; of the open-eyed, blind Pew tapping loudly with his 
stick on the gravel outside the Admiral Benbow; of the peril 
of David Balfour as a flash of lightning revealed him poised on 
the uncompleted, treacherous outside staircase of the House of 
Shaws. All these had a kinship of beauty or emotion or both. 
They all moved me to tears, but I knew them for tears of joy. 
In myself, too, I felt a joy in an upsurge of strength, an arro- 
gant pleasure at having been chosen to survive when so many 
had died. And now the sound of a piano penetrated my reverie 
and presently usurped all my attention. It was the old lady's 
niece playing in the next house. She was playing a pleasant 
tune in waltz time, a piece I had never heard before, one that I 
felt I should like to learn. I hoped it was a "Bromo-Seltzer 
piece." If not, and if my mother's report was accurate, I 
would probably hear it often enough to enable me to play it 
without ever having to see it. 

Because of our economic prosperity, the atmosphere of our 
home in Waterbury was less tense than I had ever known it to 
be in New York. The twelve dollars a week my father 
brought home was sufficient to warm, feed, and clothe us. It 
also enabled my mother to dispatch a few dollars now and then 
to relatives in Russia, though still without the knowledge of 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 255 

my father. An attempt was made to begin payments to Mr. 
Harris in London on the debt we owed him. But he returned 
the five dollars with a note in which he said he never had any 
idea of lending us money, that he had meant his "contribution" 
as a gift, and had told us it was a loan for fear that we would 
otherwise refuse it. He begged us to accept the money as our 
"small inheritance," for in his will he was leaving everything 
to "Palestine," and he was certain that so endearing and 
enterprising a family as ours would have no trouble in making 
their way in America. He could not, of course, know the 
trouble we had had in making our way in New York. My 
mother, out of pride, never complained to Mr. Harris in her 
letters to London. And here in Water bury neither of my 
parents was obliged to be enterprising. Life for all of us was 
reasonably pleasant. 

On the matter of my religious upbringing my father showed 
a forbearance which, in the light of his former intransigence, 
I found it hard to understand. However much I had tried to 
conceal it in New York, in Waterbury my religious skepti- 
cism was quite apparent, and my interest in music and litera- 
ture had the effect of highlighting my indifference to Hebrew 
studies and the strict observance of ritual which absorbed my 
father. Perhaps he had given me up as hopeless in those direc- 
tions. At any rate, the piety of his eldest son was sufficient to 
guarantee the welfare of his soul in the world to come. I was 
not made to attend synagogue except on important holidays. 
And while he never suspected that I played the piano at home 
on Saturday mornings, my father pretended not to notice 
minor infractions of Sabbath rules which I permitted myself. 

He must have guessed that I went on Saturdays to a 
matinee at the Jacques (pronounced Jakes) Vaudeville House 
on West Main Street, for on coming home from the theater I 
was so full of what I had witnessed that I could not resist 
repeating some of the jokes and imitating the characteristics of 
the headliners. Having once tasted the delights of vaudeville in 


the outdoor theater at Lakewood, I had implored Solomon to 
finance a weekly matinee for rne at Jacques. With a view to 
fostering an ally in his courtship of Molly, or perhaps out of 
unmotivated kindness, Solomon gave me fifteen cents every 
Saturday ten cents for a seat in the gallery and five for an 
ice-cream soda. I had hinted to Solomon that those of my 
friends and schoolmates who attended the Saturday matinee at 
Jacques always capped the afternoon with an ice-cream soda 
after the show. 

My Saturdays were now full to overflowing. I played the 
piano in the morning. After a deliciously heavy Sabbath 
dinner at noon, my father and mother would take the tradi- 
tional Sabbath after-dinner nap. I would slick my hair and tidy 
myself up, for all the young patrons of Jacques looked neat 
and clean. It was good to walk the mile to Jacques and feel 
myself a part of that recognizable stream of well-attired 
youngsters which, fed from side streets, was converging on 
the theater. Inside, Jacques was very unlike the Grand Street 
and Windsor theaters in New York. Before the show began, 
the patrons were somewhat noisy. But there was no confusion 
in the matter of seating. Only the popcorn- and candy- 
vendors running up and down the aisles reminded me of the 
Jewish theaters. And the moment the lights went out, all 
noises ceased abruptly. 

Though the performers (except the pianist) changed 
weekly, the ingredients of the show never varied. The over- 
ture came first. A spotlight would isolate the upright piano in 
the pit (there was no orchestra), and the never-changing and 
ever-popular and admired pianist would emerge to deafening 
applause, bow many times, seat himself, and launch into the 
"overture," a potpourri of the tunes of the period, ornamented 
with runs and arpeggios, and concluding with a great display 
of virtuosity. This done, and rapturously greeted by the 
audience, a uniformed attendant would appear from the wings 
and remove the cardboard sign with the numeral I from an 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 257 

easel standing at the extreme left front of the stage, revealing 
a card marked II. With No. II the show was on in earnest. 
For three hours one sat entranced through acts by acrobats, 
trick bicyclists, soft-shoe dancers, hilarious skits in which 
real pies were prodigally expended, sweet singers of ballads, 
and raucous singers of ragtime, dog acts (my favorite was the 
canine response to a fire-alarm in which small dogs slid down 
poles and clambered aboard miniature fire engines, which, 
accompanied by a great clanging of fire-bells, were then raced 
off the stage by other dogs harnessed to them), and well- 
known actors or actresses in scenes from their Broadway 

A block away from Jacques stood Poli's, the theater of 
concerts and serious drama. The posters on the billboard of 
Poli's pictured important moments in the different plays that 
followed one another twice a week. I longed to see them, but 
the price of admission was more than double that prevailing 
at Jacques, and I did not think it wise to overplay my role of 
go-between in my brother's love suit by an additional demand 
for money. I was destined to witness my first play in English 
without his help. One morning the postman delivered a letter 
addressed to the "Reverend Morris Chotzinoff." It was in 
English, and it advised the "reverend" addressee that a box 
at Poli's had been placed at his disposal for the opening per- 
formance of one of the greatest dramas of all times, enacted 
by a celebrated Broadway cast. The Ninety and Nine was the 
mystifying name of the play. The letter went on to say that 
The Ninety and Nine featured effects of a most sensational 
character never before seen on any stage, and that Its theme 
was religious, embracing all creeds, and bearing a clear 
message of faith and hope for all humanity. The producers of 
the play hoped that the "reverend" gentleman and his family 
would accept their invitation and that perhaps he would 
express his approval of the play to a gentleman who would 
interview him after the final curtain. 


The great day came at last. We all wore our Sabbath 
clothes. As my father was going In his role of "Reverend," 
we decided he must wear his new, shiny stovepipe. The lobby 
of Poll's was full of wall-to-ceiling mirrors that reflected us 
flatteringly from every side. We took our places ostenta- 
tiously in the box. I had never before sat in a box, and I was 
happily conscious that people in the pit were looking up at us, 
some through telescopes. But I was startled to find the boxes 
on the other side occupied by priests and clergymen in black. 
They had doffed their hats. I glanced at my father's stovepipe, 
which sat imposingly on his head. This, I felt, made us 
conspicuous and marked us out for Jews. For the first time 
in my life I experienced a desire for conformity. I called my 
father's attention to the hatless clerical gentlemen on the other 
side. He took the hint, removed his stovepipe, and placed 
it on the floor beside him. He then took out the skullcap he 
always kept in his pocket and covered his head. But the skull- 
cap, being a rarity in Waterbury, was even more conspicuous 
than the stovepipe, and attracted much more attention. I could 
do nothing further, for my father never went bareheaded 
except to bed. Fortunately, the lights suddenly went out, the 
orchestra began to play music. To rny delight it proved to be 
the Light Cavalry Overture, which had used to ring up the 
curtain of the Grand Street Theater. Now all eyes were 
turned toward the stage. 

The drama did indeed live up to the promise of the letter to 
my father and the colored billboards. In retrospect it appears 
to have been an up-to-date version of the parable of the 
Prodigal Son. Its features are dim in my mind. But quite vivid 
still are the two scenes illustrated in the posters, for which I 
waited expectantly and which on the stage were breath- 
takingly realistic. What looked like a real engine, propelled 
by real engine wheels, raced through a real fire. The tattered 
hero had one hand on the throttle, and with the other clanged a 
great bell. The combined sounds of the hissing of the flames 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 2 59 

and steam, the motion of the wheels, and the clang of the bell 
achieved a crescendo that was almost insupportable. At its 
peak It was overpowered by a fearful grinding of brakes. The 
engine slowed down, the fire was left behind, glowing faintly 
in the distance, the huge machine came to a halt, and the 
exhausted engineer descended to the ground, where a throng of 
anxious people shook his hands and praised him for his 
courage and daring. 

The next and final scene depicted the church I had seen on 
the posters. The tattered engine-driver walked in and, finding 
it deserted, made straight for the organ, at which he seated 
himself and began to play. He played beautifully, and I began 
to be affected by the soft, lofty, impersonal organ sounds, 
when my father rose precipitately and, declaring that we had 
been tricked into witnessing a heathen rite, left the theater. 
We had no choice but to follow him, and I never knew how 
the play finally ended. At home my father, still irate, called 
for a basin of water and a towel and solemnly washed and 
dried his hands, saying that he had committed a sin and was 
cleansing himself of it. I never knew what he thought of the 

It was also in Waterbury that I heard my first purely 
instrumental concert. A billboard at Poli's one day proclaimed 
the only appearance in our city that year of the celebrated 
Creatore and his celebrated band. The price of tickets ranged 
from one dollar to twenty-five cents. Fearing to miss this 
single opportunity (who could tell where I or the band would 
be next year?), I did not hesitate this time to approach my 
brother. To my delight, Solomon was himself eager to hear 
the famous band. He bought two seats in the balcony, in the 
very first row. On the day of the concert I worried so lest we 
might arrive late that Solomon and I were at the theater half 
an hour before the doors opened. By that time I was in such a 
turmoil of expectation that, forgetting we had reserved seats, I 
ran ahead of my brother, to be among the first to get in. As I 


ran I became aware of a boy of about my own age and size 
running toward me. I tried to dodge him, but whenever I 
veered to the right or left he did the same. Inevitably he 
must run into me, and suddenly he did, and we collided, my 
forehead bumping with a loud noise against his. The blow 
sent me reeling backward. At the same time I realized that I 
had run headlong into one of Poll's full-length mirrors. The 
boy I had seen running toward me was my reflection! Solomon 
now appeared, laughing at my odd mishap. With the blade of a 
pocket knife he always carried with him, he flattened down a 
great bump that had arisen on my forehead, and we made our 
way less hastily to the balcony. 

From the moment Creatore emerged from the wings, I 
forgot all about my accident and the bump on my forehead. 
The celebrated leader had on a uniform of blue with white 
trimmings, as did all the members of his band, except that his 
trimmings were more plentiful and whiter. He was bare- 
headed. His hair was long and fell in disorder around his head 
and the back of his neck. I thought he looked every inch a 
high priest of music. He began with the William Tell Over- 
ture, which I was to hear for the first time it was, strangely, 
not among the overtures in Madam Zamoshkin's repertoire. 
The piece was electrifying. I knew the story of Tell from one 
of our school readers, and now I heard it unfold in its broadest 
outlines in orchestral sound: the pastoral Swiss background 
against the sudden loosing of the War of Liberation. And 
Creatore himself was magnificent. Like a general who aims to 
leave nothing to chance, he took command of every phrase, 
even of every note (he beat out each note of the English horn 
solo in the pastoral episode, at the same time weaving and 
suggesting a variety of nuances with his baton) . In the final 
"War" episode the great leader outdid himself in directions to 
the several sections of his band, turning with lightning agility 
from side to side, releasing cascades of notes from the flutes 
and piccolos, exciting the cornets to more stentorian vehe- 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 261 

mence, pleading with the trombones for piercing, golden 
sound, and whipping up the whole to a frenzy of musical 
carnage of almost unbearable magnitude. 

Yet, brilliant as he proved himself in the William Tell 
Overture, Creatore was even more compelling in the "Mise- 
rere" from // Trovatore, which followed it. Here he was 
dealing with emotion, with the human heart, not with peace 
and war, and his behavior to his men underwent a startling 
change. Even before he signaled the soft opening chords, he 
assumed an air of hopeless dejection, which communicated it- 
self gradually to the audience. His head fell on his chest, his 
shoulders rose to his neck in a hunch, and his hands were 
outspread, frozen in a gesture of resignation. After standing 
motionless in this attitude for the time it took the house to 
achieve a startling silence, Creatore released a down beat 
with the most mournful of gestures. I could imagine nothing 
sadder than the sounds that forthwith issued from the trom- 

But I was already anticipating Manrico's solo: "Ah, I have 
sighed to rest me," and wondering how Creatore would treat 
that noble aria, which, I was certain, would be played by a 
cornet. Indeed, when it arrived, a cornet did play it. But he 
had hardly begun when Creatore stepped down from his 
podium, sank to his hands and knees, and crawled through a 
maze of music stands and players' legs to the solo cornetist. 
There, still on his knees, he straightened up and beat time in 
great sweeping motions, almost in the cornetist' s face. The 
cornetist, raising his instrument and his head toward the 
gallery, blew soft, sad, tawny notes in my direction, while 
Creatore begged and implored him to give of himself and his 
art without stint. The effect on the cornetist was hypnotic, 
for he played with an extravagance of emotion which went to 
the heart. 

Later the same player was entrusted with a lively theme and 
variations, which he tossed off with the utmost dexterity and 


brilliance, quite as if he were not the very same person who a 
moment earlier had given such poignance to Manrico's plaint. 
I treasured my first concert at Poli's, and decided to show my 
gratitude to Solomon by picturing him in my next letter to 
Molly as a patron of music. This, I hoped, might induce Molly 
to feel "in that way" about her foster brother. 

I was approaching my thirteenth birthday. At thirteen a 
Jewish boy becomes a man in every sense of the word, and his 
dedication to a responsibility to God and man for his acts is 
celebrated with the solemnity appropriate to so momentous an 
event in his life. So far I had known very little of personal 
responsibility. But as to becoming a man in the physical sense 
I had for some time had intimations of a mysterious and 
disturbing character. These intimations ran parallel with my 
discovery of and interest in a new kind of literature, whose 
existence I had never even suspected. 

Since I had first looked into the adventurous world of 
Robert Louis Stevenson in Wool worth's on East Main Street, 
my favorite authors had grown in number. I craved adventure 
in a world of action, and my instinct led me to authors who 
provided it. Chief among them was Alexandre Dumas, whose 
works I encountered accidentally while browsing in the 
public library on West Main Street. Milestones in my life 
were The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. 
I saw at once that French intrigue was both subtler and bolder 
than English. Besides, there were women in Dumas, a sex 
Stevenson had neglected in his books, though, to be sure, it 
was an omission I had not noticed. They were a new kind of 
women, attractive in a way to make a boy of twelve or 
thirteen feel grown-up and important. They were not "good" 
women in the usual sense, and it was rather disconcerting to 
realize that their very want of conventional goodness was 
not the least part of their attraction for me. The attractive 
women in Dickens were all good. Even Nancy was a good 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 263 

woman, in spite of her association with criminals and her 
betrayal of Sikes. What a totally different creature was the 
little seamstress in The Three Musketeersl I had heard vaguely, 
in the conversations of my sisters, about "loose" women in 
literature who had been unfaithful to their husbands. Madame 
Bonacieux, the mercer's wife, not only was unfaithful to her 
husband, but laughed and joked about her infidelity as if it 
was no sin! Nor did d'Artagnan, her lover, take the situation 
seriously. What a far cry d'Artagnan was from the equally im- 
moral, but guilt-tortured hero of Chernishevsky's What is to be 
Done? The Frenchman took everything with levity adven- 
ture, peril, love, but a strange kind of love, ephemeral, not 
founded on affection, easily discarded and forgotten love, in 
short, as adventure. This kind of love seemed natural in the 
life of a Frenchman. Why shouldn't it be natural in the life of 
all men, Jews included, who aspired to be brave and generous? 

In all my life I had not met a girl or woman so alluring as 
Madame Bonacieux. I wondered whether she could flourish 
only in an era as brave and careless and chivalrous as the 
France of the last four Louis, and was now extinct as a type. 
Yet equally fascinating was Milady, though for different 
reasons. Milady was beautiful, haughty, inscrutable, and, 
alas, evil, and she deserved, I reluctantly admitted to myself, 
her dreadful fate. But when I began to read the scene describ- 
ing her execution on the bank of the river, I could not bear it 
and was obliged to put down the book for the moment. For I 
loved Milady, with all her faults, and I also loved Madame 
Bonacieux. And if I had to choose between them I should not 
know what to do, because (I dared not admit to myself) I 
wanted them both! 

The women in The Count of Monte Cristo were not exciting, 
like those in The Three Musketeers, but the Count more than 
made up for this. The idea of vengeance, conceived and 
executed on a scale so grand as that of the poor, wronged 
sailor, was absolutely breath-taking. Ever since I could re- 


member, I, too, had planned revenge after every wrong or 
injustice inflicted on me. I had thus far not suffered evil 
machinations of the magnitude of those that sent Edmond 
Dantes to a dungeon in the Chateau d'If. But I had harbored 
ideas of revenge as devastating as those devised by the Count 
of Monte Cristo. I had even contemplated patricide. Fortu- 
nately my father had abandoned naked cruelty as a weapon 
against a part of his family, and there were moments now 
when I could even feel affection for him. Ideas of revenge, 
however, persisted in my mind. I hoped that misfortune would 
overtake the anonymous boys who had stoned the rabbi of the 
synagogue. I dreamed about challenging Chubb to a fight and 
felling him with the first blow. And some day when the world 
would have proclaimed me its greatest poet, I would visit 
Miss Quinn at the Webster School and remind her of her 
hostility to my youthful verses at a time when encouragement 
was so vital to my development as an artist. However and I 
counted it not as weakness, but as the magnanimity of a true 
poet I would leave behind me a copy of my latest book of 
poems, inscribed simply: "To my teacher, from her pupil, 
S. C." I could picture her surprise, her feeling of gratitude, not 
unmixed, I hoped, with one of guilt. 

But this literary world of intrigue, revenge, bravery, 
magnanimity, of reckless, generous men and earthy women, 
was soon to be eclipsed by a new world, one less artistically 
and realistically meritorious, but more exciting for an ado- 
lescent boy. One fateful day, hunting for book bargains in a 
second-hand shop, my eye was caught by the titles of two 
paper-covered novels in a heap marked one cent apiece. The 
first book, A Mad Love, promised a sensation. Dora Thome, 
the second, I found irresistible because of the illustrated cover 
showing a young woman and a man in a passionate embrace at 
the edge of a lake on a moonlit night. I had no wish to own the 
books, but I felt an urge to read them, if only hurriedly. My 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 265 

curiosity satisfied, I would then, perhaps, resell the books to 
the second-hand dealer for a penny for the two. 

At home I locked myself in my attic room and consumed 
both books rapidly, with a kind of guilty relish. I was at once 
aware that they differed glaringly from the other books on my 
shelves. They gave me a consciousness of my physical being, 
and certain parts made me feel warm and brought the perspira- 
tion out on my forehead. I was puzzled at this effect on me, for 
the two stories were surprisingly high-minded and moral, not 
at all like The Three Musketeers. The heroines of both were, if 
I can trust my memory, simple English country girls who were 
seduced by men of wealth and station. Though themselves 
innocent in soul, they reaped the wages of sin, the one com- 
mitting suicide in the lovely Swan Lake of her seducer's 
country estate, the other murdered, I believe, by whom and by 
what means I cannot recall. From every moral and ethical 
standpoint both novels were exemplary. Yet their effect on me 
was disturbing. Why was it that the trysts of d'Artagnan and 
his paramour made pleasant reading (though I could guess at 
what must have occurred at them) while the meetings of 
Dora Thorne and her noble lover at night in the magnificent 
park of his country place sent the blood rushing to my head? 

Now my nights were disturbed by dreams of seductions in 
silent parks. I became the licentious hero of each book, and I 
felt myself drawn to both innocence and its spoliation. 
Madame Bonacieux, once so desirable in a jolly, open way, 
seemed no longer interesting. I would not, like d'Artagnan, 
cross swords for her possession. But the innocence of Dora 
Thorne, her unconsciousness of the danger around her, the 
sweet, trusting surrender of body and soul to her lover, made 
her desirable. For hours at a time I sat rereading Dora Thome 
and A Mad Love, returning again and again to the trysts at 
night and the seduction scenes, my senses luxuriating in 
unformed, nameless, yet somehow shameful desires. Nor did 


the influence of these stories vanish when I put the books 
down. The sensations they induced persisted throughout the 
day, in school and at play. I tried reading my old favorites 
again, but my mind wandered from the characters and inci- 
dents that once had absorbed me completely. 

Only music could free me from the pleasurable oppression 
of awakening desire. There was so much to think about while 
playing the piano technique, phrasing, tone-color, dynamics! 
Feeling and emotion had to be built up coldly and deliberately 
out of many elements. In the process one forgot everything 
else. Even in performing before an audience one could not 
succumb to the emotions one was building up, without en- 
dangering the structure of the music. In those troubling days of 
my thirteenth year, I rushed from my oppressive sessions 
with A Mad Love and other novels of that nature which I 
sought out and purchased in second-hand stores and junk 
shops, to the cerebral release of piano practice. 

A month before my thirteenth birthday arose the delicate 
question of my bar mitzvah (ceremony of confirmation) . The 
question was a delicate one because my father had permitted 
me a certain laxity in the observance of Jewish ritual. My 
skepticism about religion in general, as yet undefined, was 
nevertheless apparent, and for reasons of his own my father 
did not choose to try to break it down. I suspect that my 
mother was not without influence in his decision not to attempt 
coercion. Whether because they had grown older or because 
of the necessity of closer family ties in an environment 
predominantly Christian, or through release from economic 
pressure, the relations of my parents were now equal. In- 
deed, my mother's influence on my father and on family 
matters had become dominant, though its manifestations were 
so subtle that I doubt my father was at any time conscious of 
not having the upper hand. And now it was not my father, 
but my mother who approached me on the subject of my bar 
mitzvah. Pointing out that unlike most Jewish boys I had not 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 267 

been required to go to Talmud tor ah (school of higher religious 
studies), she implored me to please my father (and ease her 
own situation) in the matter of the "bar mitzvah ceremony. I 
could not deny my mother anything, and I undertook to learn 
the prescribed chapter in the Shulkhan Aruk, and the commen- 
taries on it. The thin old rabbi whom I had saved from being 
stoned taught me a Hebrew oration, which I committed to 
memory, though I did not understand its meaning. 

In the morning of the important day, I accompanied my 
father to the synagogue, where I put on phylacteries and a 
prayer shawl for the first time. Both were a present from my 
father. My mother's gift was a lovely silk bag for the phy- 
lacteries, which she had herself sewn and embroidered. At 
home I was greeted by an assembly of our friends and person- 
ages from the synagogue. At a signal from the old rabbi I 
delivered my Hebrew speech. The rabbi then solemnly spoke 
to me in Yiddish, telling me that I was now a man, eligible to 
be one of a minyan (quorum), that my father was no longer 
responsible for me to God, but that henceforth I should be 
held accountable by the Almighty for my sins. I was then 
congratulated on all sides and my mother dispensed whisky, 
wine, and teglich (small fritters) . I could not help being moved 
by the ceremony at the synagogue (adjusting the phylacteries 
was fun) and at home. Yet I knew that my elation was 
transitory and that my true pleasures were not in ritual, 
which everlastingly complimented God, but in "goyish" 
books, music, and the expression of life in art. I began skipping 
morning prayers and the "laying" of phylacteries; and one 
day I put the little silken bag away for good. My father 
pretended not to notice, and our life went on as it had before I 
had been inducted into Jewish manhood. 

My graduation from the Webster School was approaching. 
One morning in May, Miss Quinn told us that it gave her 
pleasure to announce that the class would graduate in a body. 
Committees were appointed to get out the class book and to 


decide on the shape and color of the class pin. The graduation 
exercises were to be held at Poli's Theater. They were to 
consist of choral singing, a piano solo, a selection on the cor- 
net, a valedictory, a recitation, and speeches by the principal 
and one or two political figures of the city. The girls were all 
to wear white dresses, the boys blue suits. I was selected to 
be the class orator, and Miss Quinn gave me a long poem to 
memorize. To my dismay, the piano solo was allotted to a 
girl of fourteen who had been studying the piano for the last 
eight years. This girl, unacquainted with the "Freedom 
method," played mechanically well, but without imagination. 
Miss Quinn said she was sorry to disappoint me in the matter 
of the solo, but that it would be unfair to the rest of the class 
to have me occupy too prominent a place in the graduation 

As soon as I had committed the poem to memory, Miss 
Quinn helped with ''elocution" and "gestures," both essential, 
she maintained, to an adequate public performance. The poem, 
called "Winning Cup's Race," seemed to me, after considera- 
tion, a happy selection. It was both a romantic and a dramatic 
poem. Its tone was conversational, something quite new in 
poetry to me, and at first I was displeased with its jaunty air. 
But I quickly caught on to its dramatic possibilities. Miss 
Quinn said it called for subtlety in inflection and broad 
realistic gestures if the audience was to get the full flavor of its 
dramatic story. 

Miss Quinn had planned my interpretation in every detail. 
"You, Samuel," she said at the beginning of our rehearsals, 
"are telling something that once happened to you. You are a 
jockey on a great estate in England. It's a strange tale, and you 
are telling it directly to an English Lord. Now, Samuel, you 
must imagine that every person seated out front in Poli's is 
the Lord you are addressing. Of course no jockey ever spoke 
poetry, so you must pretend that this is not a poem, that you 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 269 

are just saying what happens to come to your mind." For all 
that, I found it difficult to pretend that "Winning Cup's 
Race" was not a poem. Its meter, which resembled that of 
Evangeline, seemed to defy any attempts at conversational 

"You've never seen Winning Cup, have you? Stroll 

round to the paddock, my lord; 
fust cast your eye over the mare, sir; you'd say that, 

upon your word, 
You ne'er saw a grander shaped "un in all the 'whole 

course of your life. 
Have you heard the strange story about her, how she won 

Lord Hillhoxon his wife? 
No? . . ." 

Miss Quinn bade me forget all about the rhymes, but I 
couldn't. "Don't pause after 'upon your word,' even though 
there is a comma," she said, "but go into the next line quickly 
like: 'you'd say that, upon your word you ne'er saw' 
And, Samuel, move a few steps to the right when you say: 
'Stroll round to the paddock, my lord.' In other words, 
Samuel, stroll to the paddock, and pretend the Lord is strolling 
to the paddock with you. And now we have the first gesture. 
When you say: 'just cast your eye over the rnare, sir,' point 
to the mare," and Miss Quinn stuck out a forefinger at an 
imaginary mare, "and at the words: 'you ne'er saw a grander 
shaped 'un in all the whole course of your life,' outline with 
both your hands the shape of a beautiful horse like this," 
and Miss Quinn drew in the air with both her hands the belly 
and back of a large horse. 

I spoke the lines in an offhand manner and made the 
gestures. It had not the confidence of Miss Quinn's delivery, 
nor the definition of her gestures. But she made no comment, 
and I continued: 


". . . /'// tell you <why Winning Cup, here, 
Has lived in this lazy grandeur since the first time they 
let her appear " 

I paused, compelled to do so by the rhyme. 

"Don't stop," Miss Quinn shouted at me; "go on go on! 
Appear where? Appear what?" "On a racecourse," I has- 
tened to add. Miss Quinn told me to go back and run the two 
lines into each other, conversationally. This I did. 

"... Has lived in this lazy grandeur since the first 

time they let her appear 

on a racecourse to run for a wife, sir the loveliest 
girl in the land. ..." 

Miss Quinn worked hard with me every afternoon after 
school, and in a few weeks "Winning Cup's Race" was 
whipped into a dramatic monologue of obvious vividness and 
force. I copied all of Miss Quinn's gestures faithfully. At 
home I had my mother stand up in front of me as "my lord," 
and I recited the poem and executed my gestures straight at 
her. Long before graduation came around I was letter-perfect, 
and I moved my body and my arms in strict synchronization 
with the words. Miss Quinn signaled the completion of her 
task by telling me one afternoon after I had gone through the 
poem: "It will do." 

My mother was more enthusiastic, though I could not be 
sure that she comprehended the drama of "Winning Cup's 
Race" as I paraphrased the poem for her in Yiddish. And, 
truth to tell, I was hazy about the story myself even as I 
boldly reconstructed it for her. Young Lord Hillhoxon had 
ruined himself and his ancestral estate by gambling. His 
jockey, Bob Doon (that is, I), foreseeing his master's ruina- 
tion, had secretly trained the foal, Winning Cup, to run in a 
race that would restore the young Lord's fortune and win him 
the lovely Lady Constance for a bride. That much was clear. 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 271 

But as the devoted jockey deplored gambling, I could not see 
how the winning of the race could accomplish what it did. I 
did not, of course, disclose my perplexity to Miss Quinn. If I 
had, Miss Quinn would have exclaimed at my obtuseness. As 
for my mother, I stressed the running of the race itself. This 
she understood. She found my gestures evocative of the 
excitement and tension of the race. My performance as a 
whole had, she said, the overtones of a "Lebembild" (por- 
trayal of life) as vivid and heart-warming as a serial novel of 
high life in a Jewish daily. 

The expense involved in being graduated was considerable, 
and I was again obliged to appeal to Solomon. He gave me 
five dollars, which paid for a graduation suit, the class book, 
and a blue enamel class pin. The class book looked in all re- 
spects like a regular book. It had many pages, and it was bound 
in glossy white linen-covered boards. Everything in It, with 
the exception of an article by the school principal, was the 
work of the graduating class. For some reason never told me, 
I was not represented in the book. This omission was hard to 
explain to my family and friends, who knew me for a poet 
through my own frequent representations. I could not deny, 
however, that the poem of the class poet in the book was a 
worthy production. It was, In essence, a hymn to the future of 
the graduating class. It pointed out, ringingly, the high moral 
quality of our training at Webster School and called on us to 
be forever worthy of the school's tradition of learning, honor, 
and good citizenship. 

Good as the poem was, I thought the prose in the class book 
of a higher order. I was particularly taken with a humorous 
story called "Jones's Dog," contributed by a quiet boy who 
had hitherto been notably unproductive (in class) in a literary 
sense. In the story, Jones, an impeccably dressed youth, took 
his dog for a stroll around the town one Sunday morning after 
church. The dog was described as gentle, though slightly 
frisky, and his master as polite and well-bred to a painful de- 


gree. Yet the moment they emerged on West Main Street 
both of them were overtaken by the most extraordinary, comic 
misfortunes. Jones's dog broke his leash and ran into side 
streets and alleys, followed by his anxious master. Mishaps 
piled up at a sidesplitting rate and achieved on the last page a 
climax altogether unexpected and pathetically hilarious. For 
just as Jones had succeeded in shooing his dog out of a deep 
puddle of dirty water, who should turn the corner of the street 
but Jones's best girl, dressed in her Sunday clothes. To Jones's 
(and the readers') horror, the dog, recognizing the young lady 
and desiring to show his pleasure at the meeting (so the author 
intimated), made a flying leap at her and spattered her with 
mud from head to toe. Needless to say, Jones, unable to face so 
appalling a situation, fled homeward, presently to be followed 
by his wretched but well-meaning pet. And there the author 
left him, cleverly refraining from resolving the unhappy 
Jones's marital future. I translated the story to my family and 
they agreed that I had not exaggerated its comic values. My 
father, who disliked animals, nevertheless laughed at the tale, 
and said: "What else could one expect of a dog?" 

In the midst of my preparations for graduation, the slaugh- 
terhouse where my father was employed shut down for lack 
of sufficient business. My mother, not at all disheartened, said 
it was high time that we returned to New York and civiliza- 
tion. What, she inquired, could become of me in Waterbury? 
What outlets were there for my various talents? Must I grow 
up to become a laborer in the Waterbury Brass Co. and daily 
take my lunch along in a tin box? And what was my father's 
future in this provincial city? Should he fail to get employ- 
ment in some other slaughterhouse, he would have to depend 
for a living on a very limited number of Jewish weddings and 
circumcisions. The shutting down of the slaughterhouse she 
recognized, as she had so often done with calamities in the 
past, as a blessing in disguise. 

My father was not really loath to leave a city that had 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 273 

proved as injurious to his health as London had, a city, more- 
over, where Jews were practically nonexistent and the wear- 
ing of a beard was a real hazard. He took a satisfaction, how- 
ever, in hinting that my mother's eagerness to move back to 
New York was not unrelated to her desire to be near her 
daughters. This was true enough. Hannah's baby was pres- 
ently due; and Molly seemed perversely to be uninterested in 
marriage. My mother could only feel she was needed on both 
fronts. Yet she thought fit to deny my father's insinuation and 
offered to swear upon the head of her only son that she was 
speaking the truth. Notwithstanding my growing agnosticism, 
it was with a feeling of apprehension that I heard my mother 
airily lying to God. I half expected immediate annihilation by 
a shocked and outraged deity. And, as so often in the past, I 
wondered if my mother was really the devout, old-fashioned 
Jewish wife we thought her. 

At any rate, she began at once to prepare for New York. 
Molly was empowered by letter to find a suitable apartment of 
three or four rooms, perhaps in a neighborhood less thickly 
populated than the East Side ghetto. For our sojourn in Water- 
bury had given my mother a feeling for space and cleanliness 
which the cramped conditions of the East Side could hardly 
gratify. She suggested Harlem as a region that had begun to 
draw the better-class Jews. There my talents might be better 
nurtured. And my father would find fewer competitors and 
more young people who might be eager to marry and beget 
male children. 

Graduation day arrived at last. In the afternoon we had a 
final rehearsal on the stage of Poll's. I could hardly believe 
that I stood on the very boards that had accommodated 
Creatore's band and the realistic mechanical wonders of 
The Ninety and Nine. When my turn came to recite "Winning 
Cup's Race," I felt nervous as I advanced to the edge of the 
stage and faced a dark, empty, silent, menacing auditorium. 
What if I should forget a line, a word? My voice trembled 


throughout. But I got through the poem without forgetting 
anything. Miss Quinn spoke no word of praise or blame. 

At eight that evening we again took our seats on the raised 
platform in front of a painted backdrop depicting the junction 
of North, South, and East Main Street, with Apothecary's 
Hall, the city's most impressive building, in the foreground. 
A few minutes later the curtain rose, revealing the auditorium 
now brilliantly lighted and completely filled. I at once sought 
and found my family. They were sitting quite close to the 
stage. My father wore his skullcap, and his shiny stovepipe 
hat rested on his lap. My mother had on her "good" dress, 
and over it a spangled shawl, another one of Solomon's 
"foreclosure" trophies. 

At a signal we rose and sang "Shoulder to Shoulder," a 
martial setting of a poem describing the valor, camaraderie, 
and determination of Napoleon's Old Guard. This was fol- 
lowed by a lyric ballad, "By the Side of a Mossy Bank a 
Modest Violet Grew," celebrating reticence not only as a 
virtue but as one that pays off well, for at the end of the song 
the retiring violet triumphed over bolder flowers. I sang along 
with the class mechanically. 

While I sang I went over "Winning Cup's Race" in my 
mind several times from beginning to end. I was letter-perfect. 
Yet when Miss Quinn motioned to me that my turn had come, 
I could not recall the opening words. And as I rose and stood 
still by my seat for a moment, looking straight at my teacher 
in what must have seemed to her utter bewilderment, she 
formed her lips in patterns that I recognized. "You've never 
seen Winning Cup, have you?" her lips said in an exaggerated 
manner, and her face looked ridiculously contorted, like mine 
when I made faces at myself in the mirror. Instantly the suc- 
ceeding words came to my mind. 

I advanced to my appointed place near the footlights. I felt 
millions of eyes probing my face. At the same time I knew that 
Miss Quinn was staring right into the back of my head, 'willing 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 275 

me not to forget, not to bring disgrace on her and the class. I 
looked up at the gallery, seeking refuge there from the staring 
eyes around me. The gallery presented a wavy, unidentifiable 
mass, soothing to my troubled senses. I felt that I must look 
only at the gallery or I would be lost. It now seemed like an 
age since I had taken up my stance at the rim of the stage. Miss 
Quinn must be reaching the limit of her patience with me. I 
should begin at once; if only I could remember the opening 
line, the others would follow. An oppressive quiet was cir- 
culating in the theater like pervasive, humid air. Suddenly I 
remembered Miss Quinn's puckered face, and the opening 
line came to me with a rush. Mechanically I stuck my right 
hand out toward the gallery and took a few steps forward, as 
Miss Quinn had taught me to do. "You've never seen Win- 
ning Cup, have you?" I heard myself say, though the voice I 
heard was not at all like mine. "Stroll round to the paddock, 
my lord." On, on the voice went, while my hands and feet 
and my body made the expected motions. 

The story of Winning Cup's race unrolled itself more 
rapidly than I had rehearsed it. Yet I heard, with astonish- 
ment, the unfaltering voice discharge every word with the 
expected inflections. In spite of the speed of the recitation, it 
took a long time. There were moments when my thoughts 
wandered and I forgot to listen to what the voice was saying. 
At those times extraordinary irrelevancies filled my mind: 
Chubb, and his sister Jessie, the fire drills, the sound of Valse 
Bleu from the house next to ours. Yet when my mind returned 
to listening, the story of Winning Cup's race was at the point 
where it should have been by then. At last I heard myself 
shouting: "For God's sake, Winning Cup, now!" And I 
leaned forward at a perilous angle, like a jockey making a last 
desperate effort to inspire his mount to an ultimate exertion. 
Thus I hung, frozen for a moment. Then my body relaxed. 
" 'Twas over," the voice said calmly, "we'd won by a head!" 

There was a moment of utter silence. Then I heard a noise 


around me like the sliding of egg coal down a narrow chute. 
My eyes left the balcony and looking downward I saw hands 
clapping. They were applauding rather listlessly, I thought. 
I bowed, as I had been taught to do in such an event, and re- 
turned to my place. I sought Miss Quinn's face for some sign 
of approbation. But Miss Quinn was looking on the floor. The 
principal rose and began to distribute the diplomas. Each 
recipient was applauded. I expected to be singled out for a 
special demonstration. But when my name was called and I 
advanced toward the principal, the applause that greeted me 
was even smaller in volume and intensity than that bestowed 
on the graduates who had preceded me! 

The exercises ended with our singing of "My Country, 
'Tis of Thee" and The Star-Spangled Banner. By prearrange- 
ment I met my family in the theater lobby. There I was 
warmly congratulated by my brothers and sisters. But I 
managed to persuade my mother to reserve her more physical 
demonstration of affection for the privacy of our home. Once 
there, though I could not shake off a feeling of uneasiness, I 
suffered myself to be kissed and embraced by her, and I ex- 
perienced a sense of relief when she said that I looked and 
sounded like a great actor. 

From the English-speaking members of the family I elicited 
more detailed praise. And to assure myself that they had not 
missed any of the fine points and subtleties I had hoped to 
convey, I recited the poem again, pausing at certain spots to 
inquire if I had used the same intonation and gesture in the 
theater, and to be assured vehemently and enthusiastically 
that I had. I then craved their indulgence for another per- 
formance, this time without interruption. In the security of 
our front room and surrounded by affection and admiration, I 
recited "Winning Cup's Race" with a skill, an ease, and a 
brilliance that overwhelmed both my family and me. Com- 
pared with it my performance at Poll's was admittedly unas- 
sured, pale, and stilted. I read in the troubled eyes of my 
audience that they, too, understood the difference, but a tacit 

A Connecticut Interlude 2 277 

delicacy obviated any reference to the comparison. From 
myself I could no longer hide the feeling that "Winning Cup's 
Race" had been a fiasco in the theater. That, and not her per- 
sonal hostility to me, was why Miss Quinn had not returned 
my inquiring look, and why there had been no crescendo of 
applause when I rose to receive my diploma. 

The memory of my first public failure embittered my last 
weeks in Waterbury. When I met a schoolmate on the street, 
I suspected that his greeting, whether cordial or indifferent, 
concealed either pitying condescension or malicious triumph. 
Indeed, my feeling of guilt increased with the passing of time, 
and the picture of my frightened self staring at the gallery in 
Poll's Theater and waiting for the once so familiar, but now 
elusive opening words of ''Winning Cup's Race" to take 
shape in my mind grew more and more vivid and terrifying. 
Could I ever again face an audience? Whether in music or in 
drama, the great man I expected to be would have to demon- 
strate his powers, not in the security of his home, but in the 
threatening, hostile impersonality of the concert hall or the 

What else could I aspire to that held no such threat to my 
vulnerable sensitiveness? Poetry, perhaps. The poet was not a 
public figure. But how could the poet know the pleasure his 
works gave to the world? By counting the number of books he 
sold? But how impersonal was such a reward! Better, perhaps, 
the promise of even such a partly satisfying moment as when, 
at the conclusion of my nightmarish recitation, I identified 
the rattling sound of coal moving down a chute as reluctant 
applause than the poet's cold knowledge that some unseen 
persons were reading his works. JVIy fears were great, but my 
yearning to shine in public was even greater. Besides, music 
was my forte, not recitation. I could not be frightened playing 
the piano in public. For one thing, I did not have to look at 
anything but the keys. I must henceforth set my will to banish 
fear or else become reconciled to an inglorious future at home. 


i Widening Horizons 

HAD hardly installed ourselves in New 
York in a railroad flat in a house on Madison Avenue, at the 
corner of i mh Street, when the alarming news arrived from 
Waterbury that my brothers Albert and Solomon had "failed." 
The details of this catastrophe were not touched upon in 
Solomon's letter to my father, which left us to add "failed" to 
our limited and uncertain vocabulary of business terms like 
"chattel mortgage" and "foreclosure." What Solomon had 
made plain was that they had lost everything and were con- 
templating a removal to California, a state, in his opinion, 
eager to encourage the building trade. There, being unknown, 
they could start anew. Fortunately, they had salvaged enough 
from the wreck of their fortunes to get them to the small but 
thriving town of Mariposa, which they hoped would be but a 
steppingstone to the greater city of Los Angeles. The impli- 

Widening Horizons 279 

cation of this news for us was plain. We could no longer in a 
pinch count on my brothers for financial aid. And in a pinch 
we decidedly were at that very moment. 

In a family council held immediately upon the receipt of 
Solomon's letter, it was decided that I must find a job of some 
sort and for the duration of our financial crisis pursue my 
musical studies on the side. I scanned the want ads in the New 
York World for jobs in our neighborhood. This would save me 
both carfare and time. There seemed to be a few such, par- 
ticularly in the offices of doctors and dentists. The latter, 
especially, appeared to be in need of boys of my age to sweep 
out their offices, answer doorbells, and do a variety of chores 
that required little skill, and they were prepared to pay wages 
of between three and three and a half dollars a week for the 
"right" boy. 

When I appeared in these offices at eight in the morning, 
the stated time for interviews, I found, to my dismay, the 
waiting-rooms crowded with applicants. No matter how early 
I arrived, there was always a crowd ahead of me. In weeks of 
answering suitable advertisements I was able to achieve an 
interview only once. After a brusque inquiry into my back- 
ground and an examination of my qualifications my name and 
address were noted down and I was dismissed with the 
promise that a decision would be communicated to me by 
mail. The letter never came. 

In the meantime my mother had established credit at a 
butcher's shop, a fish store, and a grocery. The last was lo- 
cated, most conveniently, in the house we lived in. Two years 
of freedom from financial worries had not dampened my 
mother's buoyancy and general optimism, nor her powers of 
persuasion. And she now proceeded to establish relations with 
tradespeople as easily as she had done before we moved to 
Waterbury. I was not present at her initial interview with the 
grocer; but it had been highly successful, and the grocer had 
given her an oblong-shaped notebook in which he recorded all 


our purchases. She had agreed to weekly payments. Each 
Saturday night, for a month, she asked for a reckoning and 
paid it in cash. Thereafter her payments tended to grow ir- 
regular, and one day when I was sent to the store to do the 
shopping, the grocer, to my embarrassment, refused to fill the 
order and in the presence of several customers declared ve- 
hemently that my mother had exhausted his patience, that he, 
too, had to live and buy provisions and pay rent, and that, in 
short, he could not extend us further credit without visiting 
the greatest injustice on his wife and children. On hearing 
about this my mother went downstairs at once and returned 
a quarter of an hour later with the provisions I had failed to 
get. There were times, too, when the butcher failed to deliver 
meat, and the baker, bread and rolls. But a visit by my mother 
to their shops always set things to rights, and the stream of 
provisions resumed flowing. We ate very well indeed. 

Learning of our return to New York, relatives and friends 
began visiting us in large numbers, as in the old days. They 
generally arrived just before mealtime. My mother, even be- 
fore greeting them, would pour a quart or so of water into the 
soup kettle, and I would be dispatched to the various stores for 
an extra can of herring in tomato sauce, another rye bread, 
and a chunk of hard salami. When Nochum and Chaie Rive 
Flayshig and their two boys paid us a visit, my mother would 
not hear of their returning to their home in Brooklyn (a 
journey of at least two hours) late in the evening, and the 
visitors were put to bed in a body on the floor of the front 
room. The following morning Chaie Rive rose early, washed 
and dressed the twins (their curls had given way to high 
pompadours, but their hair still required their mother's at- 
tention), and put on their jackets, preparatory to leaving. Her 
preparations took a long time, as if she were reluctant to de- 
part, as indeed she was. At that delicate moment my mother 
remarked that it must be indeed an unfeeling parent who 
would take her young children on a long journey to Brooklyn 

Widening Horizons 281 

on an empty stomach. And Chaie Rive, loudly protesting, al- 
lowed herself to postpone their return until after lunch. 

My father plainly showed his annoyance with my mother's 
excessive hospitality and Chaie Rive's delaying tactics, and 
when the guests finally left, my mother upbraided him for his 
want of delicacy, denying his accusation that she put herself 
out only for her relatives, and calling on God to absolve her of 
any display of partiality. This led to a quarrel, and for days 
the atmosphere in the house was oppressive with animosity. 
To escape it, Molly and I went for walks in Central Park after 
supper or visited Hannah, who lived on Ninety-fourth Street 
near the East River, five flights up in a house facing George 
Ehret's brewery. 

Hannah had grown very large, but her pregnancy had made 
her face more beautiful than ever. She now seemed indifferent 
to the things that had used to trouble her, such as the hardships 
and calamities of friends and our economic plight. Her own 
situation was, at the moment, rather favorable. Her husband 
had captured an impressive "job" of fresco-painting which 
would take many months to complete and net him three hun- 
dred dollars. Half of the sum had been paid in advance. On the 
advice of friends who knew and feared the fluctuations of her 
husband's profession, Hannah invested ninety dollars in a dia- 
mond ring. As against the insecurity of banks, whose failures 
were periodic, a diamond ring was as safe as anything possibly 
could be. Indeed a "stone" (as it was familiarly called) had an 
intrinsic value not subject to economic ills. Economic depres- 
sions even had the curious effect of appreciating the value of a 
"stone." At the worst, a diamond could be instantly translated 
into cash at the pawnbroker's. 

Negotiations for the purchase of the ring were carried on 
privately with a friend of Jake's who had a friend in the dia- 
mond business. One Sunday Hannah summoned my mother, 
Molly, and me to her house to help her choose a stone from 
among an assortment that Jake's friend's friend was bringing 


over. The stones, spread out on a velvet mat, were dazzling a 
The dealer delicately picked out the diamonds with a pair of 
pincers and held them up to the light and turned them around 
to let us see them sparkle. The stone we finally chose was 
priced at one hundred dollars. My mother made one of her 
best efforts to bring this down to seventy-five. But she re- 
luctantly settled for ninety when the man exclaimed: "If 
you won't buy it for ninety, you don't want a diamond," and 
brusquely poured the jewels into a small paper envelope that 
he shoved into the inside pocket of his jacket with unmis- 
takable finality. 

The purchased stone was then taken to a jeweler's on Grand 
Street and mounted on a gold ring. Henceforward the presence 
or absence of the diamond ring from the fourth finger of Han- 
nah' s right hand served as an index of her economic state, as 
well as of that of her family and friends. At those rare periods 
when Jake was doing well, Hannah was glad to lend the ring to 
friends in need, who pawned it and then redeemed it at the 
first opportunity. Emergencies might arise in her circle while 
the ring happened to be out at the moment for the benefit of 
somebody. At those times Hannah would do her best to re- 
deem the ring herself and pass it on to the neediest of the 
moment. An emergency operation, a lying-in, the instant re- 
quirement of a dowry as an inducement to a youth to marry a 
friend's daughter whom he had got in "trouble," required the 
intervention of Hannah's diamond ring at the shortest notice. 

Hannah's baby, a boy, was born at a time when the ring 
was in her possession. The night before, Jake appeared at our 
house to tell us that Hannah's pains had begun and that he 
had already summoned the doctor. My mother went back 
with him to stay the night, and early the next morning I ran 
to Hannah's house. 

I was permitted to go into the bedroom with Jake. Hannah 
lay in bed with the baby close at her side. The infant was 
swaddled in several layers of clothes, and only his thin, 

Widening Horizons 283 

shriveled, crinkled, ancient-looking profile was visible. He 
made no sound. Hannah looked very pale and serious, and 
when she saw me she stretched out her right hand toward me. 
Her fingers were bloodless, long, and thin, and on one of them 
the diamond ring sparkled, a tiny point of radiance in the dark- 
ened, silent room. I kissed her hand and sobbed for joy, for I 
had heard of women dying in childbirth. Then Jake said she 
must sleep, and we left. 

Sometime later an apartment in our house fell vacant, and at 
my mother's insistence Hannah moved into it. The proximity 
was beneficial all around. I spent a good deal of time in Han- 
nah's house playing with the baby and watching Jake make 
water-color sketches for his big job. The baby had grown 
young-looking and had lost his wrinkles. I began to take 
pleasure in his company, and was happy when I was permitted 
to hold him or take him out for an airing in his carriage. In no 
time at all he became everybody's preoccupation. Even my 
father showed a mild interest in him, though he said we all 
gave him exaggerated attention. As for Hannah, the baby ab- 
sorbed all her waking hours and, when he was indisposed or 
ill, her nights as well. 

My mother, having seen Hannah through childbirth, now 
addressed herself to the problem of getting Molly married. 
Solomon had been written off. Molly swore that never, under 
any circumstance, would she consider marrying her foster 
brother. Several men whose acquaintance she had made in 
New York during our stay in Waterbury visited our house 
and were closely examined by my father and mother for their 
eligibility as suitors. Molly seemed heart-free, but she showed 
a slight preference for a Mr. Glanz, a quiet, well-spoken man 
of about thirty-five, who was in the insurance business and 
seemed prosperous. Mr. Glanz took Molly to an occasional 
concert and ball, but always brought her home before the ball 
began. He did not care for dancing, and said as much. For all 
his quiet demeanor, my parents did not feel comfortable in his 


presence. "He behaves," my mother once remarked, "like a 
man who is hiding something. ... I wouldn't be surprised if 
he had traveled!" 

A man who traveled much was a legitimate object of suspi- 
cion. It wasn't even possible to make inquiries about him. How 
could one know what he did in distant places! He might even 
have a wife somewhere at the ends of the earth! One night as 
Mr. Glanz was sipping a glass of tea my father looked up 
from his book and directed a loaded question at him. "Am I 
right, Mr. Glanz, that you have seen something of the world?" 
Mr. Glanz smiled and did not answer immediately. My 
mother looked much concerned. Mr. Glanz was obviously 
well-to-do and might yet prove to be an ideal match for Molly. 
But when Mr. Glanz finally spoke, he might just as well have 
exploded a bomb in our kitchen. "Yes," he said, "I have seen a 
bit of the world in my youth. I once spent a year in China." 

My mother gasped. "In China!" she repeated incredulously. 
"In China," Mr. Glanz affirmed. "Another glass of tea," my 
mother suggested, rising hastily and taking up Mr. Glanz's 
glass and saucer. My father resumed his book, and after 
drinking his second glass of tea Mr. Glanz politely took his 

"I knew he was concealing something," my mother said 
sadly. "My heart told me. Yet he seems nice." 

My father nodded. "One never can tell," he said. "China! 

Molly put up a half-hearted defense of Mr. Glanz. A good 
man, she argued, need not necessarily succumb to corruption 
even in so distant a place as China. But, not really caring for 
Mr. Glanz, she let the matter drop, and the next time he 
called she was quite short with him and declined to go walking 
in Central Park. Mr. Glanz, perhaps as a result of his travels, 
was no fool. He took the hint, and we never saw him again. 

With the elimination of Mr. Glanz, my mother's concern 
for Molly's future became acute. My father, who, since our 

Widening Horizons 285 

return to New York had reverted to his old attitude of cold- 
ness and sometimes even of hostility to my mother and her 
children, began referring pointedly to Molly as a "mahdr A 
mahd was a maedel who had passed the freshness of youth. 
While not wholly a spinster, a mahd was so dangerously close 
to being one as to cause her family the utmost concern. Molly 
was twenty-one, going on twenty-two, and perilously close 
to the age limit of a maedel. My mother made it a point to 
strike up an acquaintance with the women she met in the 
grocery and at the butcher and fish shops and learn in a casual 
way about the composition of their families. But when she 
hinted to Molly that the son of a neighbor or acquaintance was 
eager to call on her, my sister flew into a rage and accused 
her mother of lacking pride. She even threatened to move 

At that period Molly, no less than my mother, was in a 
nervous state. The basement shop on Vesey Street where she 
worked was gloomy, and the Armenian proprietor, who was 
the only occupant of the premises besides herself, made her 
feel uneasy. It might take a long time to find another job, and 
we could not afford to do without Molly's wages even for a 
week. It was decided that I should accompany Molly to work 
and find out for myself whether there were grounds for her 
fears. I thought it only prudent to supply myself with a 
weapon with which to meet the situation that Molly feared. 
In a vacant lot on Fifth Avenue I found a brick. I put it in a 
paper bag and tied a cord around it to make it look like a box 
lunch. Armed with this and a book to while away the time, I 
went along to Vesey Street with Molly one morning. 

The "factory" was indeed a gloomy place. The room in 
which Molly worked was underneath the sidewalk, and the 
window, which let in an uneasy light, was close to the ceiling. 
A single gas burner fixed to one wall threw an eerie light on 
two workbenches and several stools and cardboard crates. 
The proprietor sat at a workbench manufacturing cigarettes. 


Near the bench stood a low stool that held a phonograph with 
a very large horn. The appearance of the man was odd and, 
to me, frightening. He was tall, thin, and stoop-shouldered, 
and his long, unkempt hair was black streaked with gray, like 
a mixture of black pepper and salt. His hands were yellow, 
bony, and gnarled, his eyes deep-set and smoldering. 

Molly said: "Good morning. This is my brother," but did 
not explain my presence. The Armenian gave me a piercing 
look over his shoulder and murmured something unintel- 
ligible. Molly took off her hat and gloves and sat down at her 
bench on the other side of the room. I found a rickety stool, 
sat down between Molly and the Armenian, and opened my 

Presently the Armenian reached under his bench and picked 
a cylindrical wax record from a half-dozen standing there. He 
fitted it on the phonograph, which he wound up. After some 
preliminary rasps the horn began to emit the strangest sounds 
I had ever heard. The voice struggled out of the horn as 
if under desperate compulsion to escape from the confines 
of the cylinder, filling the wretched apartment with the 
screeching and wailing of a soul in torment. Now soft and 
pitiable, then suddenly raucous like a cry of pain at some 
dreadful hurt, the voice hurled itself at the damp walls and 
gathered force from the rebound. It flashed through my mind 
that this could be the a woman wailing for her demon lover" 
in Kubla Khan, Coleridge's strange poem whose imagery I 
felt, but whose sense I could not make out. 

When, following a piercing coloratura flourish, the music 
stopped, the Armenian removed the cylinder and said in my 
direction and in a strange accent: "Nice you like?" He then 
chose another record. This, with some slight difference, 
sounded like the first. The records followed one another, and 
when he had played the lot he began over again. So the 
morning wore away. At noon Molly and I went outdoors and 
ate our sandwiches while walking the streets. When we re- 

Widening Horizons 287 

turned, the Armenian was gone. In the afternoons it was his 
custom to visit tobacconists' and restaurants and take orders 
for his brand of cigarettes. 

That night we held a family council, and I described the 
Armenian's basement and the Armenian himself so vividly that 
it was agreed that the danger to Molly was greater than our 
need of her wages. I accompanied her, still armed with the 
brick, to Vesey Street for the rest of the week. And when she 
was paid off on Friday, she told the Armenian that she would 
not be back. Even as we stood in the doorway I feared an as- 
sault, and I clutched the brick with both hands. But the Ar- 
menian said nothing and made no move. When we reached the 
sidewalk we heard the sound of one of his records seeping 
through the transom. We broke into a run toward the street- 
car as if we feared pursuit. 

Molly soon got another job in more respectable surround- 
ings. No longer needed as a protector, I could turn my atten- 
tion to finding some lucrative work for myself. Through my 
mother's skill at blandishment and at advertising my merits as 
a pianist and musician, I obtained my first pupil. This was a 
sad-looking, squint-eyed spinster who had definitely passed 
into the category of mahd. My mother had made her ac- 
quaintance in the grocery store and had cleverly turned her 
thoughts to studying the piano. I suspect that my mother 
stressed the importance from a man's point of view of music 
among the accomplishments of a young lady. And, indeed, a 
plain-looking young lady who played the piano had an edge, 
in the matrimonial market, over those who didn't. Piano- 
playing was noted down as an asset in the shadchen's little 

This mahd had no ear for music, and her fingers were too old 
and ungiving for the piano. But she paid me fifty cents a week 
for two lessons and an hour of practice a day on our piano. 
At the very first lesson I realized that I could regard her only 
in a monetary light. The lessons were a chore for both of us. 


In addition to being untalented, the spinster was nervous and 
ill at ease. She could not concentrate on fingering and count- 
ing out loud. Her thoughts seemed to be on other things, and 
her eyes were often on the door, as if she expected the en- 
trance of the prospective groom my mother had probably 
guaranteed. For a year, at least, she persevered. Then, noth- 
ing in the way of a suitor having materialized, she abandoned 
the piano. Sometime later I heard, with astonishment, that 
my former pupil had succeeded in obtaining a husband. My 
mother did not hesitate to attribute the good fortune of the 
mahd to her having studied the piano with me. To hear niy 
mother talk, one would think that she had herself arranged the 
shiddach (match). 

Another and more unexpected source of income was brought 
to my notice by my old friend Mr. Katz, the owner of the 
music shop on East Broadway. I acquainted Mr* Katz with 
my need for earning money, hoping that he would recommend 
me as a teacher of the piano to beginners. He told me that the 
teaching field was overcrowded and that even beginners now 
aspired to be taught by the top men in the professions noted 
virtuosi and teachers like Montana and Ivan Tschirsky. I 
asked Mr. Katz whether Madam Zamoshkin was also num- 
bered among the outstanding teachers. He said that the 
Zamoshkins had disappeared two years previously, leaving 
many debts (including a large unpaid bill in his own shop) 
and the suspicion that Madam Zamoshkin's "Freedom 
method" was as controversial as her claim that she was legally 
the wife of Mr. Zarnoshkin. 

Mr. Katz thought that an educated boy like myself could 
make money teaching English to immigrants who desired to 
learn the language in the shortest time and were willing to pay 
for it. He knew of a newly arrived brother and sister who were 
on the lookout for a cheap young teacher, and he would take 
pleasure in recommending me. As to the fee, he counseled me 
to be bold and ask for twenty-five cents a lesson per -person. 

Widening Horizons 289 

Mr. Katz was as good as his word and arranged an inter- 
view. My boldness in the matter of my fee so impressed the 
brother and sister that there was no need of bargaining. 
Twice a week I journeyed to Norfolk Street, where they 
lived, and taught them how to read, write, and pronounce 
English. They made good progress. And soon they induced 
two of their friends to give up night school, where progress 
was slow because of the large classes, and take the short cut 
of private lessons with me. 

My teaching activities in piano and English brought me two 
and a half dollars weekly. With this and Molly's and Sarah's 
wages, my mother now had fourteen dollars a week with 
which to run the household. The actual cost of running the 
house came to a great deal more, but my mother juggled the 
fourteen dollars in a masterly way, paying so much on ac- 
count here and promising full payment a week later there. 
Sometimes she would advise me to avoid passing the shoe 
store on i i6th Street for a fortnight, or she would caution all 
of us not to loiter on our stoop for the time being. Then we 
surmised that the grocer's bill was long overdue and that he 
would be on the lookout to intercept one of us to obtain what 
satisfaction there might be in airing his grievance publicly 
and putting us out of countenance before the neighbors. Not- 
withstanding my mother's warnings and the precautions we 
took, the grocer once confronted Sarah as she was turning into 
the house laden with provisions from a rival grocery. In the 
hearing of neighbors and passers-by who had collected around 
the stoop, he abused my mother for an ungrateful, scheming, 
and unprincipled woman who, not content with running up 
enormous bills at his store, added insult to injury by taking 
her custom elsewhere, where she and her methods were as yet 
unknown! The following Saturday night my mother entered 
his store as if nothing had happened, paid a few dollars on ac- 
count, and proceeded to give a large order, which the grocer 
dutifully filled. 


Our economic situation, while leaving my mother unruffled, 
had a depressing effect on Molly and me. It seemed to me and 
to Molly (Molly was quick to accept and adopt my ideas and 
opinions, despite the disparity in our ages) that the wealth of 
the world was unevenly and rather stupidly distributed. This 
unreasonable and unfair distribution was also proof to us of 
the validity of atheism; for a deity would certainly have 
ordered it otherwise. In the New York American, which Molly 
and I read assiduously, there were stories and photographs of 
people who had no need to work and who spent their time ar- 
ranging lavish and costly entertainments for one another. We 
read about the Vanderbilts and the Goulds, and we resented 
them, though we were avid to learn the details of their friv- 
olous lives. We followed the course of dazzling international 
marriages with concealed relish, while openly excoriating the 
rich Americans for buying foreign titles and the noble for- 
eigners for selling them. 

In Central Park Molly and I took pleasure in calling out in- 
sults to the beautifully dressed ladies and gentlemen as they 
drove past us in their carriages and electric landaulets, or rode 
in pairs on horseback on a bridle path that ran the length of the 
Park. What an affront to the poor was this bridle path, cre- 
ated and maintained for the pleasure of a useless minority! Yet 
many of the pampered ladies I watched go by me were lovely 
to look at, and I had daydreams (which I did not confide to 
Molly) in which a beautiful lady in a carriage would on seeing 
me command her coachman to stop. I would be invited to ride 
in the Park, with the explanation that something in my face 
had caught her attention. The adventure ended in my marry- 
ing the lady if she was not too old or, if she was, her daughter, 
whom I was to meet at supper in the family mansion on Fifth 
Avenue, adjacent to the Vanderbilt house. Then having ac- 
quired my wife's fortune, I would spend a good deal of it in 
helping the poor, especially talented young boys. I would 
roam the poorer districts of the city incognito and listen for the 

Widening Horizons 2 9 1 

sounds of piano-playing. And when I discerned arresting 
musical qualities in the performer, I would reveal myself and 
make him and his family independent for life. 

My own piano repertoire had grown considerably. I had 
left far behind me pieces like The Burning of Rome, The Eight 
Sufferers, and The Alpine Shepherd's Evening Call, which now 
seemed to me insufferably juvenile and sentimental. In Katz's 
music store I bought the first volume of Beethoven Sonatas. 
And having read somewhere the legend of the origin of the 
"Moonlight" Sonata, I committed that composition to mem- 

It was an unusually difficult piece, but its alleged "pro- 
gram" and the Freedom method helped me to ignore its techni- 
cal hazards. True, the music did not quite conform to the de- 
tails of the legend. I had read that the great composer, wander- 
ing at night through the streets of Vienna, had heard the 
sounds of his own music coming from a lowly cottage. Enter- 
ing the house, he discovered a blind maiden at a piano. He 
introduced himself. The blind girl, overawed, asked him to 
play. As Beethoven seated himself at the instrument a ray of 
moonlight fell athwart it. Then and there Beethoven im- 
provised the "Moonlight" Sonata, to the unutterable delight of 
the blind girl and posterity. 

In the sonata, the story related, the composer depicted 
gentle spirits dancing on a moonlit lawn. The image guided 
me in my interpretation of the first movement, though I could 
not help wondering at the extremely slow tempo of the spirits. 
But what did Beethoven depict in the violent, stormy last 
movement? I could find no clue in the legend, so I arbitrarily 
made up a scenario to fit the dominant mood of the music. In 
my version Beethoven improvised only the first two move- 
ments for the blind girl. He then took his leave. On the way 
home the moon suddenly disappeared and a violent storm en- 
sued, with peals of thunder, flashes of lightning, and torrents 
of rain. On reaching his home Beethoven, drenched to the 


skin but creatively inspired, rushed to the piano and im- 
provised the last movement, incorporating in it the drive and 
fury of the storm and, in the intervals of its cessation, invok- 
ing the tender image of the blind girl in the cottage. As a 
complete contrast to the "Moonlight" Sonata, I added Liszt's 
Second Rhapsody to my new repertoire. The tremendous 
technical problems of the Rhapsody succumbed to the Free- 
dom method and its wonder-working aid, the loud pedal. My 
rendition of these two compositions, so utterly different in 
quality, never ceased to move and excite my audience. 

Apart from the members of my family, our relatives, and 
friends, my audience now included the Finkles, a family that 
lived on the third floor front in our house. The Finkles were 
a father and mother, two daughters, and a son. My mother 
made the acquaintance of the elder Finkles in the grocery 
store. The elder Finkles were a remarkable couple. They 
were of the same size and age, their features were almost 
alike, and they were inseparable. Mr. Finkle had no visible 
occupation, and, indeed, he did not require one, for his chil- 
dren all worked and earned more than enough for the needs of 
the family. Mr. Finkle accompanied his wife wherever she 
went. Never were they seen alone. On their shopping tours he 
carried the basket and some of the parcels. At home Mrs. 
Finkle did the cooking while her husband swept the rooms, 
washed the dishes, and peeled the potatoes and onions. 

The elder Finkles were very proud of their children. They 
had, to be sure, every right to be. The girls, Naomi and Reba, 
were schoolteachers and the son, Harry, the oldest of the 
three, was, most incredibly, a member of the great Metropoli- 
tan Opera House chorus. I had read about the Metropolitan 
Opera House in the New York American and had seen pictures 
of some of the stars. But it was hard to believe that a member 
of the company actually lived in our house. I longed to know 
him and to talk to him. And one night his sisters brought him 
to us and he asked me to play. I played Liszt's Second Rhap- 

Widening Horizons 293 

sody (it was by now called "The Rhapsody" by my family 
and friends) . 

I was less confident of my powers before a member of the 
Metropolitan Opera House, and my playing reflected my 
nervousness. To my delight, Harry Finkle said: "Bravo!" 
which I understood to mean approval, and clapped his hands 
with the rest of the audience. Yet I was sure that he had 
noticed the inadequacy of my octaves, and I waited for his 

"Sammy," said my mother, turning to Mr. Finkle, "wants 
to take more lessons. From what you heard, don't you think, 
Mr. Finkle, that he doesn't have to any more? Don't you think 
he's finished?" 

Mr. Finkle smiled. "In music," he replied, "nobody is ever 
finished. At the Metropolitan" the august word startled 
me "many of the greatest singers go regularly to teachers." 

"Do you go too?" my mother persisted. 

"I, too," Mr. Finkle said gravely. 

Later, over a glass of tea, Mr. Finkle was induced to talk 
about himself and his glamorous duties at the Metropolitan. 
No life could be more exciting. One night he was a courtier at 
a Duke's palace helping to abduct the lovely daughter of the 
Duke's jester. Another night he was a bon vivant playing for 
high stakes in a Parisian gambling-house. He felt at home in 
every variety of wig and costume. He was on the most familiar 
terms with the Metropolitan stars. They conversed with him 
in the wings and during intermissions. He related anecdotes 
both serious and amusing. Some in the latter category I found 
rather disillusioning. "One night, in Faust, my friend de 
Reszke pressed an egg into Marguerite's hand I think Eames 
was the Marguerite. Yes, it was Emma during their love 
scene. Poor girl! She was afraid to open her hand until the 
curtain came down." I liked the serious ones better, especially 
those which told of last-minute substitutions of untried and 
unknown singers for indisposed veterans of the opera house. 


Mr. Finkle himself knew every bass role in the Metropolitan's 
repertoire, and was ready at a moment's notice to replace any 
scheduled star. 

I could have listened to Mr. Finkle forever. But Hannah, 
who had come down to our apartment to hear me play for our 
important neighbor, managed to bring the conversation back 
to me and my future. She agreed with Mr. Finkle that I re- 
quired further study, and asked him to recommend a teacher. 
Mr. Finkle had several suggestions to make, among them Ivan 
Tschirsky and a certain Mr. Plesch. The latter, Mr. Finkle 
said, was a Romanian musician and pianist of the highest re- 
pute, though as yet not so well known as Tschirsky, Hannah 
took down the addresses of both. When the Finkles left, she 
said that I must lose no time in seeking out one or the other of 
the pedagogues. And when my father raised a skeptical eye- 
brow, Hannah said that she would herself pay for my lessons 
and glanced significantly at the diamond ring on her finger. 

My first choice was Ivan Tschirsky, whom I had once seen 
for a moment in Katz's music store. Tschirsky looked like 
Beethoven and was thought to be the illegitimate son of the 
great Anton Rubinstein, a rumor that he himself had started 
and carefully fostered. Mr. Finkle made an appointment for 
me, and one morning I stood, with beating heart, in Tschir- 
sky's presence in his studio on 1 1 6th Street. On closer in- 
spection he resembled both Beethoven and the great Antoo 
Rubinstein. I thought it rather a pity that he couldn't be the 
illegitimate son of both. Before he asked me to play for him, 
Tschirsky inquired if I had seen his new suite for piano, 
Russia! recently published by Katz. And without waiting 
for a reply he sat down at the piano and played Russia! for 
me. The suite was in many movements, each bearing a color- 
ful title and a sentence or two of description "Russia, cradle 
of my soul ... a village at twilight . . . hark the dogs! 
. . . the peasants dance and sing . . . they are happy . . . 
the storm . . . hark the thunder! ..." He played with 

Widening Horizons 295 

every show of emotion, tossing his dark, long, coarse hair and 
breathing hard. He seemed to be in the grip of an over- 
whelming nostalgia for the country of his birth. At the same 
time, he exploited the realistic touches in the suite, making the 
piano bark like dogs and resound with rumblings like distant 

When I had complimented him on his suite and his per- 
formance, he suddenly told me point-blank that his fee was 
two dollars a lesson and asked me if I was prepared to pay it. 
I suggested that perhaps he should hear me play first. He said 
he considered an audition a lesson, and lessons were to be paid 
in advance. I had brought no money with me. In any case, two 
dollars a lesson was prohibitive. At that rate Hannah's ring 
would in no time be liquidated. I tried bargaining. Would he 
contemplate a dollar a lesson? Mr. Tschirsky grew angry and 
shouted that he was an artist, not a fish-peddler. But when I 
started to leave he advised me in calmer tones to make every 
effort to raise the two dollars and return. He then autographed 
a copy of Russia! which he took from a large pile of the suite 
stacked up on the floor and presented it to me. 

Hannah was in favor of my taking at least a few lessons from 
Tschirsky. But I had been put out by his commercialism, and 
I wished to try Mr. Plesch. Mr. Plesch lived in Bay Ridge, but 
one day a week he taught his New York pupils in their own 
homes. Harry Finkle wrote to him about me, and Mr. Plesch 
replied, naming a day when he would call at my house and 
hear me play. 

I was quite unprepared for the kind of man he turned out to 
be. I could see at once that he was a Christian. He was thin 
and sandy-haired. His blue eyes were clear, yet they looked 
troubled and inquiring. They appeared vitally concerned with 
me, or my mother or father, or anyone he talked with. His 
face was small, each feature delicately formed, the skin 
tightly stretched over an exquisitely fashioned bone forma- 
tion. He looked like an artist. He wore a formal gray Prince 


Albert that he did not button and, underneath, a checked vest 
and striped trousers. His starched collar was turned down and 
its front obscured by a large dark-blue flowing tie. His voice 
was slightly husky, and he spoke English with a strange, in- 
gratiating accent. His gentle manner and unselfconscious 
politeness put us all instantly at ease. No one so handsome, so 
artistic, so individual, and so alien had ever come to our house. 
I played for him, surrounded by my anxious family. He 
pronounced me talented, and said he would be glad to teach 
me. When Hannah asked him about his fee, he blushed and 
said it was a dollar usually, but that the matter was mirnpor- 
tant, and we needn't worry, that it would be all right whatever 
we could pay or even if we couldn't pay at all. Hannah said a 
dollar would be all right. Mr. Plesch said we must start to 
build up my technique; and the next time he came he brought 
with him a volume of dementi's Sonatinas and a book of finger 
exercises with the curious name of the Little Pischna. The Little 
Pischna was an introduction to the Big Pischna, which posed 
the ultimate in finger problems. 

I was rather taken aback by Mr. Plesch's choice of the 
Clementi Sonatinas. Compared with works like u The Rhap- 
sody," the "Moonlight" Sonata, and the overtures in my 
repertoire, the Sonatinas were juvenile from both a technical 
and a musical standpoint. But 1 was so drawn to Mr. Plesch 
that I said nothing. To my surprise, he insisted on my using 
the fingerings set down in the music and forbade altogether, 
for the time being, any use of the loud pedal. When I men- 
tioned the u Freedom method," he laughed and said it was more 
a "crime" than a "method." With the Little Pisclma, and even- 
tually with the Big Pischna, I would acquire the strength and 
facility to play virtuoso pieces like "The Rhapsody." Until 
that time I must practice and play only what he prescribed. 
This was a blow, for it obliged me to forgo the little concerts 
I played for my family and our neighbors. No longer could my 
mother say of an evening, when the Finkles were assembled in 

Widening Horizons 297 

our front room: "Play something, Semeleh play 'The 
Rhapsody,' " and when I played watch the faces of the 
listeners narrowly for pleasurable reactions. 

Mr. Plesch must have sensed our poverty, for he never 
asked me to purchase music and always brought along what I 
needed. And his diffidence in accepting his fee led me to the 
subterfuge of slipping the dollar bill under his hat, which he 
always placed on the lid of the piano. This saved us both from 
embarrassment. Once when I was ill I had Molly send him a 
letter stating that I would be unable to take a lesson that week. 
But he appeared at the usual time, bringing a bag of oranges for 
me. I was both happy and dismayed to see him, for the house 
had not been tidied up as it always was when he was ex- 

He seemed oblivious of the disorder around him. He sat at 
my bedside and talked of music and his favorite composers, 
Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. I had known about 
Wagner for a long time through three pieces "To the Evening 
Star" and the March from Tannhduser, and the Lohengrin 
"Wedding March." But Strauss was quite new to me, and I 
asked if he happened to be the Strauss who composed "The 
Blue Danube Waltz," which was one of my old Bromo- 
Seltzer pieces. Mr. Plesch said: "No!" quite positively. "This 
Strauss," he told me, "was not only not the man who wrote 
c The Blue Danube' ; he was a man who never could have writ- 
ten anything so trivial, however innocent and pleasant. This 
Strauss was a new David fending off the attacks of the musical 
Philistines. He was a revolutionary and was suffering the fate 
of all innovators. Wagner, too, had been abused in his time, 
indeed was still being abused." 

Mr. Plesch then talked about art. "Art, like life, is a per- 
petual struggle. Each generation of true artists has to fight for 
recognition. It has to destroy the enemy of art, as of life 
tradition. Tradition, rules, restrictions are the weeds that 
choke art, just as man-made laws choke life. . . ." Mr. 


Plesch poured out words and sentences with passionate ve- 
hemence, and I felt caught up In the torrent, not actually 
comprehending what he said, but sharing his excitement and 
feeling proud of being thought worthy to be taught a phi- 
losophy of art and life so idealistic and so uncompromising. 
He treated his pupils like equals, desiring only to inculcate in 
them his own lofty virtues as man and artist. What a piece of 
luck for me that we knew Harry Finkle, and through him this 
wonderful man! What an accident all life was! If my father 
had not lost his job in the slaughterhouse in Waterbury, we 
should never have returned to New York and I should never 
have met Mr. Plesch! 

It was enough to make one superstitious. I had, of course, 
always been superstitious, even when I questioned the ex- 
istence of God. Undoubtedly powers, strange, mysterious, 
and quite beyond mortal understanding, operated in the inter- 
est or to the detriment of humans. These powers naturally 
expected propitiation, and in the past, when I had desired 
something greatly, I had propitiated them by avoiding the 
cracks in the sidewalk when I walked in the streets. Not hav- 
ing desired anything greatly for some time past, my super- 
stitions had grown weak. I became careless in avoiding cracks 
in sidewalks. Now, with the advent of Mr. Plesch, I realized 
that my gratitude must be expressed in some secret acknowl- 
edgment of the potency of the powers that brought him to me, 
which otherwise might as suddenly take him away from me. I 
resumed my avoidance of sidewalk cracks, and for good 
measure decided thenceforward to put my left shoe on first 
when I dressed in the morning. This procedure I adopted on 
the theory that it was a pointed deviation from a universal 
routine and could not fail to be appreciated by whatever in-* 
corporeal agency had charge of my destiny. 

I also looked about for a superstition with some reference to 
music. It was not easy to invent something unmistakably 
suitable, but at last I found one in reaching out with my right 

Widening Horizons 299 

foot to touch the right leg of the piano when I sat down to 
practice. Superstitions, to be effective, had to be practiced in 
secret. No one would notice that I always put my left shoe on 
first, and I soon became expert, when walking in company, in 
avoiding the cracks in the sidewalks without calling attention 
to what I was doing. But it required ingenuity to reach out and 
touch the leg of the piano with my right toe in full view of 
people in the room without creating the suspicion that I was 
behaving strangely. I was sometimes obliged to accomplish 
this quite visible maneuver under cover of engaging someone 
in conversation at the same time. And soon I was able to 
practice this superstition as easily and as secretly as all the 

After my lesson Mr. Plesch would linger a few minutes 
and talk about music or about me. His gentleness and warmth 
invited confidence, and it was not long before he knew every- 
thing about my family. One day he proposed that I should 
come out to Bay Ridge on Saturdays for my lesson. There in 
his home he would be able to give me more time. And as he 
considered Saturday his day off, he would be obliged not to 
charge me for lessons, all the more so as the round trip to 
Bay Ridge would cost me thirty cents. Of course I saw 
through this maneuver, though I didn't let on that I did. I had 
to turn away to hide my emotion. Mr. Plesch shook me by the 
hand and said it was a bargain and that he stood more to gain 
than I, as he would no longer have to make the long journey 
to 1 1 2th Street. 

On the following Saturday at eight in the morning I took 
the Madison Avenue streetcar down to the Brooklyn Bridge, 
where I changed to another car that went to Bay Ridge. It 
was a long trip, and I took along a book on the lives of great 
composers to while away the time. Stimulated by Mr. Plesch's 
comments on the tribulations of great composers, I got the 
book in the public library on io6th Street, and I soon knew in 
detail the gloomier aspects of the lives of Mozart and Beetho- 


ven. Though I shed tears at their misfortunes, I felt that per- 
haps misfortunes were necessary to their development as 
artists, especially Beethoven's, for Beethoven's music really 
expressed his battles with adversity. The music of Mozart, 
at least the sonatas Mr. Plesch gave me to learn, did not ap- 
pear to square with the unhappy facts of his short life. As for 
Haydn, whose music I did not know at all, I thought him the 
most disappointing, as a man, of all the great composers in the 
book. He was pictured as a jolly person who had few troubles, 
wrote music easily, enjoyed a great reputation, and died full 
of honors and years. I could not believe that so fortunate a 
man could write great music expressive of the sorrows and 
joys of humanity. 

Riding on the streetcars to Bay Ridge, I felt exalted at the 
thought of a new and closer intimacy with Mr. Plesch in his 
home, and I reread the life of Beethoven, hoping to find a 
similarity between the great afflicted composer and my 
teacher. Mr. Plesch was also a composer, though thus far he 
had showed me only one of his compositions. This was a song 
published at his own expense, a setting of a German poem with 
the noble title "Lied ernes Judischen Sklaven" ("Song of a 
Jewish Slave"). The words spoke of the historic sad plight of 
the Jew, and envisioned a time when the shackles of prejudice 
and hate would be struck from him. The music, appropri- 
ately in the key of D minor, made vivid the agony of the Jew 
and, if I recall rightly, also appropriately burst into D major 
at the final words of hope. It was heartening that Mr. Plesch, 
a Christian, could be so concerned about the plight of Jews. 
This very fact lent credence to the promise of deliverance in 
the song. Possessing a heart so overflowing with compassion, 
Mr. Piesch, I thought, could with propriety be compared with 
Beethoven the man. And it was not beyond possibility that in 
time he might also be compared with Beethoven the composer. 
Both men were lovers of mankind, honest, truthful, un- 

Widening Horizons 301 

worldly, and both regarded music as a means to banish un- 
happiness from the world. 

Mr. Plesch's house stood in a country setting, very much 
like our house in Waterbury. Inside it was palatial. A maid in 
a white apron let me in (not since I had dined at Mr. Harris's 
in London had I again come face to face with a servant in any 
house), and as I waited in the parlor I thought it the richest 
and pleasantest front room I had thus far seen. Beautiful, 
heavy, convoluted chairs and a sofa, all thickly padded and 
soft, were artistically arranged round the room. And in an 
alcove, in front of a bay window, stood a grand piano of 
polished walnut. It had florid, curved legs, and on its top was 
spread a large flowered Spanish shawl of many colors, its 
long silky fringes almost reaching the floor. An open cabinet 
close to the piano held music books, both in paper covers and 
bound. On the walls were large framed pictures of great 
musicians, among whom I recognized Beethoven, Mozart, 
Handel, Bach, and Haydn (I resented the frivolous Haydn 
in such august company). The dining-room, which adjoined 
the parlor and had no doors, was also richly furnished. Low 
over a circular dark table hung an elaborate gas chandelier, 
its shade a large half-globe made of innumerable pieces of 
differently colored glass. The walls were paneled in dark 
wood and were completely ringed toward the ceiling with two 
tiers of built-in bookshelves. I craned my neck to read the 
titles of the books, and for a moment I felt as if I were again 
peering through the window of Malkin's bookstore on East 
Broadway. I read familiar names Dostoievsky, Tolstoy, 
Hugo, Emerson, and Turgeniev. One entire shelf held books 
with intriguing titles unknown to me Memoirs of a Revolu- 
tionist, Exile in Siberia, The History of Anarchism in Europe, 
Anarchism in America, The Philosophy of Anarchism, The 
Anarchist Movement. In our house "anarchism" was a word to 
be avoided, like the name Jesus Christ. "Anarchists" meant 


assassins and persons who believed in "free love," and "free 
love" was the negation of honorable, civilized passion. Could 
Mr. Plesch be an anarchist? At any rate, the books testified to 
his interest in the subject. 

Mr. Plesch and a lady came into the parlor. He shook 
hands with me and introduced the lady as Mrs. Plesch. Ob- 
viously he was no anarchist, as there was a Mrs. Plesch! Mrs. 
Plesch was a tall, large brunette with a prominent bosom and a 
high pompadour. Mr. Plesch looked small indeed beside her. I 
regretted noticing it, for he appeared, for that moment, to 
have lost in my eyes some of his importance. Mrs. Plesch said 
that Mr. Plesch had spoken favorably of me and that she was 
glad to see me. She then left the room, and Mr. Plesch pro- 
ceeded to give me my lesson. I was awed by the grand piano, 
and my fingers faltered at first. But Mr. Plesch, with his 
usual kindness, said I was not to worry, that I would soon get 
used to the "animal." 

I must have had a very long lesson, for Mrs. Plesch, look- 
ing stern, came in to announce dinner. I put my music to- 
gether preparatory to leaving, but Mrs. Plesch said that I was 
expected to stay for dinner. During my lesson the dining 
table had been laid with a lovely white cloth, as if it were 
Friday night. Real silver-plated knives, forks, and spoons were 
set at each one's place, and the moment we sat down the maid 
came through a swinging door carrying a cut-glass pitcher 
gleaming like a huge diamond, and filled our glasses with ice 
water. I felt ill at ease and ate little, for fear of revealing my 
ignorance of good table manners. And at one point I was com- 
pletely put out by Mrs. Plesch's asking me why I didn't 
butter my bread. I felt ashamed to tell her that it was forbid- 
den to eat butter with meat. So there was nothing for me to do 
but butter my bread, which I did, and for the first time in my 
life I ate as indiscriminately as any Christian. 

I could hardly wait to get home to describe the grandeur 
of Mr. Plesch's house. My mother said she hoped that I would 

Widening Horizons 303 

not get too accustomed to luxury, and I said I should always be 
happier at home than anywhere else. I lied, for I was even at 
that moment looking forward to my next visit to Bay Ridge. 
It surprised me how rapidly one did get accustomed to luxury. 
After a month of Saturdays I felt at home with the padded 
furniture at Bay Ridge and sat at dinner (I had a standing in- 
vitation for dinner) as unselfconsciously as I did in my own 
house. I ate my meat with butter, never once giving a thought 
to the probability of divine retribution. And one momentous 
Saturday Mr. Plesch asked me at table how I would like to 
stay the night when I came the following week. I could 
hardly answer him for joy. Instinctively I looked up at Mrs. 
Plesch for confirmation. She said nothing, but looked hard at 
Mr. Plesch. Mr. Plesch blushed and said: "I'll be able to have 
more time with him on Sunday. And I think he could do with 
some fresh air, don't you, dear?" Mrs. Plesch said, after a 
long pause: "Yes, I suppose he could." So it was settled, and 
again I was impatient to rush home and tell the great news. 

In preparation for my first weekend visit, 1 accompanied 
my father to the Russian bath on Friday afternoon. There I 
ran the gantlet of the three temperature-graded steam rooms, 
and after several hours of drastic soapings and washings 
emerged pink and exhausted, feeling virtuously spotless. I had 
on clean underwear, socks, and a shirt that my mother had 
hurriedly washed for me. The next morning I set out for Bay 
Ridge in the most sanguine frame of mind and with a sense of 
physical elation. 

It was a beautiful April day, and on my walk from the car- 
stop to Mr. Plesch's house I sang out loud the themes of an 
imaginary sonata that I had in mind someday soon to com- 
pose. Mr. Plesch greeted me affably. But Mrs. Plesch damp- 
ened my feeling of elation by asking me why I had not brought 
along a nightshirt and "a change" \ I told her, with some em- 
barrassment, that I had forgotten both at the last moment, and 
I tried to arrive in my mind at what a nightshirt might be and 


what was implied in "a change." Mr. Plesch quickly said it 
was time for my lesson, and eased me into the parlor. 

After lunch I was left to my own devices and I took down 
Turgeniev's Smoke and lost myself in the portrait of the fasci- 
nating, worldly, beautiful and unprincipled Irina. She was a 
new type in my ever-expanding gallery of women. 

After supper, visitors began arriving, both men and women. 
I was introduced as if I were a grown-up, and I solemnly 
shook hands with everybody. There was only one married 
couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Posnick. The latter was very free 
with me and took me off to a corner. She asked me my age 
and whether I was in love, and on my looking troubled she 
said one was never too young for love, that she herself must 
have been around my age when she had her first love affair. 
She was not actually beautiful, yet there was an uneasy excite- 
ment in the way she looked at one and in the boldness of her 
questions and confidences. She reminded me in some ways of 

I was asked to play, and Mr. Plesch explained that I was 
still in the formative stage. He asked his guests to bear that in 
mind. I played an early Beethoven sonata and a Rondo by 
Weber. When I finished, I was applauded and made much of. 
Mr. Posnick's disturbing wife took me in hand again and told 
me I had a great future in music. She led me on to talk about 
myself. I told her about my childhood in Russia, about my 
family, my ambitions, and my love and admiration for Mr. 
Plesch. "Have you been to any of our meetings?" Mrs. 
Posnick abruptly inquired. "What meetings?" I asked, and 
she looked surprised. "Hasn't Tibor [Tibor was Mr. Plesch] 
taken you? No? Well, then Posnick and I will." I had a sud- 
den illumination. I thought of the many books about anarchism 
on the shelves in the dining-room. "Is Mr. Plesch an an- 
archist?" I asked apprehensively. "But of course," Mrs. 
Posnick replied wonderingly. "You didn't know? We all are. 
And you must be one soon." 

Widening Horizons 305 

Mrs. Posnick must have told the Plesches about our con- 
versation, for when the guests all had left, my teacher and his 
wife talked to me at great length about anarchism. I asked 
many questions, and Mr. Plesch unhesitatingly answered them 
all, revealing an extraordinary knowledge of history. He 
traced society from its crudest origins to the present day, and 
asked me to consider the phenomenon of human exploitation, 
which ran like a thread through his story. Man-made gods, 
priests, kings, presidents, capitalists were all different mani- 
festations of a single evil, the will of the powerful few to en- 
slave the simple-minded, fundamentally "good" majority. I 
ventured to put forward socialism as a corrective for the evils 
in the world (whose existence I could not deny) . Mr. Plesch 
said he was glad that I mentioned socialism, for many people 
of good will had been taken in by its philosophy. The truth 
was that socialism negated the essential goodness and probity 
of the human spirit even more than capitalism did. "No, my 
friend," Mr. Plesch continued, leaning toward me (I ex- 
perienced a momentary delicious feeling of equality with my 
teacher at being called his friend), "socialism puts an even 
greater faith in laws and restrictions than capitalism. An- 
archism alone can save the human race. Anarchism alone be- 
lieves that people are essentially noble and good. Let me ask 
you" (Mr. Plesch obviously valued my opinions!), "do you 
require laws to prevent you from stealing, from inflicting 
pain, from murder?" I shook my head. "Of course you don't!" 
Mr. Plesch went on. "Nor does anyone who is not driven to it 
by hunger, or by senseless ambition. Let us dismiss all rulers, 
all legislators, all priests. Let everything be free, and no one 
will take more than he needs. . . ." 

Mrs. Plesch interrupted to say that it was getting late. For 
my part, I could have listened all night to Mr. Plesch. But 
he said: "Yes, it is late. We must let him go to bed." He went 
into the dining-room and came back with a book, which he 
put in my hand. "Please read a little in it, and we'll talk about 


it in the morning." Mrs. Plesch showed me into a small bed- 
room, brightly furnished and looking immaculate. On the bed 
lay a long white garment. "One of Tibor's nightshirts," she 
said, following my gaze. They said: "Good night," and left, 
shutting the door behind them. It was clear that the Plesches 
did not sleep in their underwear, and that they assumed that 
no one else did. I undressed and donned the nightshirt. It was 
too big and too long for me, and I had to laugh when I caught 
sight of myself in a wall mirror. 

I got into bed and opened the book Mr. Plesch had given 
me. Looking Backward was its name. It read like a fairy tale, 
except that the characters were real people. The time was 
some very distant future, the place Utopia. I began to under- 
stand what Mr. Plesch had been only hinting at. For I myself 
was exactly the questioning, doubtful person in the book, 
familiar only with the materialistic, capitalistic civilization of 
the present, and astonished and bewildered by the behavior of 
the people in Utopia. Mr. Plesch had spoken of such a future 
for the human race in the broadest terms. But the author of 
Looking Backward dramatized this future and was painstak- 
ingly and delightfully specific. For example, my counterpart 
in the book goes into a shop to purchase tobacco for his pipe. 
The clerk, genial and polite, brings out a large selection of 
tobaccos. The visitor makes his choice and inquires the price. 
The clerk is bewildered at the question. There is no price. 
There is no such thing as money, though he believes one could 
find specimens of it the relics of an ancient barbarous age 
in the local museum. One simply takes what one requires. If 
one needs shoes, one gets fitted in a shoe store. If one is 
hungry, one will find plenty of food in shops and restaurants. 

But what does one do in return for this largess, the visitor 
from the present-day barbarous world inquires? The answer is 
delightfully simple. One works at what one is best fitted to do. 
The musician composes or plays and sings, the carpenter 
builds houses, the tailor makes clothes. Everyone has what he 

Widening Horizons 307 

needs. There is, consequently, no such thing as crime, judges, 
lawyers, jails, or punishment. There are no laws, none being 
required. As for love, it is as free as everything else. Women 
here being the equals of men, they no longer need sell them- 
selves in marriage in exchange for economic security. 

I read until my eyes ached. Reluctantly I put out the gas 
and tried to sleep. I had been given a glimpse of a beautiful 
new world that had no resemblance to the one I knew. Yet it 
was actually a more rational world, certainly one within reach 
of well-meaning people. I would dedicate myself, like the 
Plesches and their interesting friends, to building such a 
world. I must make haste to enlist Hannah and Molly in the 
Cause. In my dreams that night I was showing my sisters and 
my mother around a beautiful city and taking them into shops 
and anticipating with delight their pleased astonishment at 
being able to "buy" everything without money. 

In the morning I breakfasted with Mr. and Mrs. Plesch, 
and they seemed pleased with my enthusiasm for the book. 
When we rose from the table, the maid came in and whispered 
to Mrs. Plesch. Mrs. Plesch then turned to me and asked me 
to accompany her to the room I had slept in. She looked angry 
and stern, and I felt a nameless fear as I walked upstairs be- 
hind her. Mr. Plesch inquired what was wrong and, getting no 
reply, followed us into the room. My bed looked only partly 
made, as if the girl had been called away before she could 
finish. Mrs. Plesch drew back the covering with a spasmodic 
jerk and pointed dramatically at a tiny, red, immobile object 
on the sheet. I did not have to look closer. I knew what it was. 
Mrs. Plesch wheeled round to me in a fury. "There's never 
been a bedbug in this house before," she screamed. "You 
brought it!" 

I could not believe she was telling the truth. I had never 
heard of a house that had no bedbugs. And why should she 
accuse me of having brought it? And even if I had unknow- 
ingly brought it, why should she create a fuss about it as if I 


had committed a crime! At the same time I felt ashamed before 
Mr. Plesch. Mr. Plesch was regarding me with compassion 
and murmuring: "Please, dear, stop this. You are being unjust, 
dear . . . don't, please!" Mr. Plesch was kind, but he ap- 
peared to share his wife's horror at the presence of a single 
bedbug on the bed. I burst into tears and sobbed that I wished 
to go home. 

Mr. Plesch led me downstairs and took me for a long walk 
out in the country. He begged me not to take his wife's out- 
burst too seriously. He explained that she was scrupulously 
clean and took pride in her house. He told me that I must for- 
get the incident, as he was certain Mrs. Plesch eventually 
would. When we returned to the house, he closeted himself 
with his wife, while I sat dejected and nervous in the living- 
room, not feeling guilty, yet wondering whether I had been 
too complacent about the presence of vermin. At last Mrs. 
Plesch came downstairs and told me that she hadn't meant to 
hurt me, but that one couldn't be too careful or one would be 
quickly overrun. I took my lesson and was persuaded to re- 
main for lunch; but my pleasure in being in the house had 

I left Bay Ridge in the early afternoon. My indignation 
(and secret shame) grew with the journey back, and I arrived 
home desperately unhappy. I hated Mrs. Plesch for her in- 
sensitiveness, but in relating the story at home I spoke pas- 
sionately and resentfully of having to live in poverty and un~ 
cleanliness, thus in effect blaming my mother for the mis- 
fortune that had overtaken me that morning. If my mother 
understood the wicked implication of my hysterical outburst, 
she gave no sign. Instead, she lashed out at Mrs. Plesch, 
apostrophizing her scornfully as a Bay Ridge "all-right- 
nick" who pretends to faint at the sight of a bedbug a single 
bedbug! She thought that was putting on airs with a venge- 
ance. No one, of course, 'wants bedbugs. But to scream and 
shout and insult innocent guests (my mother called attention 

Widening Horizons 309 

to the fact that for once I had gone to Bay Ridge as clean as a 
whistle) because of one little bug was just a calculated ex- 
hibition of snobbery. I had not transported the bug of that 
she was sure. But if I had, she was glad of it. 

In this fashion my mother went on until her anger was 
played out. Yet the incident was not without its effect on her. 
She engaged more frequently in housecleaning. I would find 
my underwear and socks removed after a single week's wear 
and fresh things substituted. And before my departure for 
Bay Ridge on Saturdays she would give me a last-minute 
going-over with an extra-coarse clothesbrush. 

In music Mr. Plesch steered me in conservative directions. 
My fingers having been strengthened by the Pischnas, little 
and big, and my sense of musical form stimulated by the classi- 
cal examples of dementi and Kuhlau, I was given next the 
Inventions of J. S. Bach. Mr. Plesch explained to me the im- 
portance and influence of counterpoint and fugue in the de- 
velopment of music. The Inventions were finger-breaking; 
but when I had mastered them, I found in them an unusual 
pleasure, a satisfaction that I could not relate to the world 
and its pleasures and woes. They seemed pleasurable for 
themselves alone, like Hannah's baby or the brook near Mr. 
Plesch's house in Bay Ridge. 

Mr. Plesch could not, when I asked him, explain to me the 
meaning of the Inventions, as he could explain, for example, 
the "Pathetique" of Beethoven. His explanation of the sonata 
was complete in its symbolism, and flattering to me because 
it made clear my own secret conception of what I thought 
Beethoven had meant to convey. Mr. Plesch identified the 
second theme of the first movement as a dispute between a 
male and female principle, and I eagerly concurred, for I had 
thought along the same lines. The adagio, nobly sad, needed 
no explanation. But except for its prevailing minor cast, the 
rondo would have left me at a loss to explain so indecisive a 
resolution of the battle proclaimed in the first movement. Mr. 


Plesch "explained" the rondo as the decision of the composer 
not to resolve the battle, to let the issues hang, so to speak, in 
the air. This seemed strange for a composer so generally 
positive as Beethoven was. But Mr. Plesch said that I would 
find no end of positive resolution in Beethoven's later works 
when I got to them. Indeed, I discovered sooner than I ex- 
pected how positive Beethoven could be. 

To save car fare, I sometimes walked home from the Eng- 
lish lessons I gave downtown. One night, passing Cooper 
Union, on Eighth Street and the Bowery, I saw on a poster on 
the building an announcement by "The People's Symphony 
Society" of a concert for the following night. The program 
featured Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The price of admission 
was ten cents. This was something I was now able on rare oc- 
casions to afford. I invited Hannah to accompany me, and the 
next evening we took the Madison Avenue streetcar (Hannah 
paid the fare) and got off at Eighth Street. The concert hall 
was in the basement of Cooper Union. On the stage sat a 
large number of instrumentalists clad in white tie and tails. 
They were tuning up extravagantly and testing their instru- 
ments with scales and arpeggios and bits of melody, each 
player intent on himself and quite ignoring the efforts of his 
colleagues. The hall resounded with a fascinating conglomera- 
tion of sounds. When the conductor emerged from some- 
where in the rear, the great disharmony ceased suddenly, as if 
by magic. The conductor, a tall, thin, stoop-shouldered man 
dressed like his players, waited awhile as if for inspiration. 
Then his stick descended with force, and I was engulfed in 
the opening movement of the Fifth Symphony. 

This was a battle indeed! Compared with it the syncopated 
turbulence of the "Pathetique" seemed small in scale and lack- 
ing power. I became aware of a similarity in form in the first 
movements of both. But I was hardly prepared for the relent- 
less insistence of the bold, naked motto from the beginning 
to the end of the movement. Not for one moment did the on- 

Widening Horizons 3 1 1 

slaught on my ears, on my nerves, and on my intellect and 
my imagination waver, not even during the brief, hopeless, 
futile "gesture" of a lonely oboe cadenza, upon which the 
orchestra suddenly fell, tooth and nail. 

The end left me in a state of epic disturbance and with the 
feeling that I should never again be at peace. But a moment 
later the cellos began the andante and I was suddenly at 
peace. I remembered a sentence in the Bible: "Is there no 
balm in Gilead?" The furtive scherzo, with its elephantine 
interlude by the basses, set me on edge again, for during its 
course there came at first secret tappings of the fateful motive 
of the first movement, later obtruding brashly with almost 
joyful insolence. I felt that anything could happen, that some- 
thing tremendous was brewing. Then out of an eerie silence 
created by the soft, rhythmic tap of a kettledrum there arose a 
fast-gathering crescendo, like the rapid inflation of a tiny 
storm-cloud, like a genie swiftly released from a bottle, and 
trumpets rent the air with brassy exultation. I recalled Mr. 
Plesch's prophecy. No music could be more "resolved" than 
the finale of the Fifth Symphony, and this grand revelation of 
the power and scope of music compelled me to revalue every- 
thing in music I had liked heretofore. 

I told Mr. Plesch about my memorable experience in 
Cooper Union, thanked him for having planted the seeds of 
my conversion to Beethoven, and hinted at my loss of interest 
in all other composers. He agreed with me about Beethoven's 
unique position in music, but he would not go along in out- 
lawing the other, for him, "important" composers. And he 
told me with a friendly smile that I was in a transitional stage, 
and that I might experience still another change of faith when 
I came to know the great music dramas of Wagner and the 
tone poems of Richard Strauss. In the light of Beethoven's 
Fifth Symphony I could not but be skeptical about the possi- 
bility of transferring my allegiance to the two later com- 
posers. My business now, however, was to find out all I could 


about Beethoven and his music. In this Mr. Plesch helped me 
out. We played together four-hand arrangements of all the 
symphonies and the overtures. And I set myself to learn those 
sonatas which were within my technical reach, and one, the 
"Appassionata" (for its name), which wasn't. It was at this 
point in our relationship that Mr. Plesch, through kindness and 
affection and, I believe, sympathy for my musical awakening 
and juvenile daring, made the great error of indulging me in my 
desire to reach into certain compositions regardless of their 
technical and interpretive difficulties. And so I swept through 
the "Appassionato" with tremendous fervor but lagging 
fingers and aching wrists and Mr. Plesch did not chide me. 
I was, in effect, resurrecting the old "Freedom method," 
now less brash in its pretensions because of certain technical 
benefits I had gained from the discipline of the two Pischnas. 

My introduction to Wagner came unexpectedly. To cele- 
brate the payment of a new installment on her husband's "big 
job" Hannah took me one Saturday night to the Metropolitan 
Opera House. Saturday-night performances were given at 
popular prices, and general admission to the gallery was fifty 
cents. Around four in the afternoon we joined a queue that 
already stretched from Fortieth Street halfway around the 
opera house on Seventh Avenue. At seven thirty the doors 
opened and Hannah and I raced up endless flights of stairs to 
the very top of the theater. We were already too late to be 
among the first-row standees. We made our way, however, to 
a place near an aisle, directly overlooking the orchestra pit. 
By stepping out in the aisle when the usher wasn't looking, I 
could see everything in the theater. 

Its size and lavish beauty took my breath away. The two 
tiers of boxes, with their damask-red interiors, the immense 
orchestra floor, fanning out in raised platforms on either side, 
the dizzy height from my position to the floor five stories be- 
low, the great lighting fixture depending from the ceiling, the 

Widening Horizons 3 1 3 

deep gold curtain hanging in graceful, generous folds, and, 
above all, the vast orchestra pit, into which an endless stream 
of musicians was now filing I hardly knew where to look. 
I heard the same sounds of tuning-up I had heard in Cooper 
Union. Yet these sounds were different, rarefied as if through 
the alembic of the great upward distance they traveled to 
reach my ear. From that distance, too, the instrumentalists 
looked like an assembly of tiny animated mannikins. 

When the lights went out in the theater, the orchestra pit 
remained illuminated, and a string of red, white, and blue 
electric bulbs stretching across the front of the stage (I could 
see them) threw a ravishing warm glow on the curtain. The 
conductor appeared and climbed onto a high chair in front of 
the players. A hush fell over the house, and the warm glow on 
the curtain changed to a bleak gray. In a whisper I had time to 
ask a man in front of me what the opera was and he whispered 
back: "Die Walkure Wagner." 

From the pit rose music like the patter of rain a rhythmic 
patter, tense and malevolent. It grew steadily in volume, and 
suddenly there were rhythmic crashes of thunder and I heard 
lightning. Then the curtain rose on a rude hut. A large tree 
trunk stood in the middle of the room, which was lit up by a 
flickering fire on a great hearth at the extreme left. I could not 
see the whole stage from where I stood; but now and again I 
stepped out into the aisle, stooped down, and caught fleeting 
glimpses of the scene and the personages in it. I heard every- 
thing, however, though I understood nothing except that the 
music and the action were on the grandest scale imaginable. 
In the second act there took place, amid the sound and sight of 
thunder and lightning, an epic duel on a high crag, the com- 
batants bathed in a red light. And in the final act dazzling 
maidens in shimmering armor and feathered helmets ran about 
the stage brandishing long spears, shouting war-cries in mas- 
sive harmony spurred on and abetted by an orchestra that 


neighed and snorted and whinnied and emitted brassy yelps so 
real, grandiose, and powerful as to wipe out my memories of 
the finale of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. 

All through the opera there came long stretches of inaction 
on the stage. During these I abandoned my efforts to obtain a 
view of the scene and gave all my attention to the extraordi- 
nary sounds from the orchestra. But toward the last a hissing 
effect as of the escape of steam alerted me to the stage. Cran- 
ing my neck into the aisle, I saw little flames springing up all 
around the stage (I remembered the forest fire on the stage of 
Poll's Theater in The Ninety and Nine). Then the orchestra, 
having crackled and hissed and spat for many preliminary 
measures, broke into a melodic vizualization of a self-con- 
tained, many-hued conflagration at the very same time that the 
fire on the stage assembled its scattered forces and coalesced 
in a solid ring around a crag on which the chief of the warrior 
maidens lay as in sleep! 

Early on the following Monday I went to the library and 
took home with me a book on the stories of Wagner's music 
dramas, and I learned in detail about Siegmund and Sieglinde, 
Hunding, Wotan, and the Valkyries. Knowing this necessi- 
tated learning the tale of the Nibelungs from the beginning. 
Indeed, in a few hours I knew the plots of all the Wagner 
operas from Rienzi to Parsifal. Notwithstanding my instant 
absorption in the imagery and plots of the stories, it was their 
ethical and moral implications that raised them above any- 
thing I had encountered in books. And the vivid memory of 
the music of Die Walkure enveloped these implications in a 
throbbing dramatic light. 

Here was a world of music that dealt not in abstract ethical 
concepts, but in men and women and their tremendous prob- 
lems in life! These personages were of grand proportions, yet 
I could relate them, through the music, to myself and the 
people I knew. The good and the evil they embodied were out 
of proportion to the good and evil I knew, yet fundamentally 

Widening Horizons 3 1 5 

they were the same. What else, for example, was the Ring the 
Nibelungs stole from the Rhine Maidens but the very thing 
that Hannah once called "that dreadful metal," the pursuit of 
which embittered the lives of the innocent and good and drove 
the weak and greedy to cruelty, Injustice, and crime. 

The battle between good and evil was clearly the basic 
theme of all the Wagner music dramas. But more important 
to me was the hidden weakness in most of Wagner's heroes. 
Though they were all high-minded and generous (like my- 
self), they were (also like myself) a prey to temptation. With 
the exception of Lohengrin, who belonged to the heavens and 
was above the battle, the heroes were all only myself on a 
grand scale! Tannhauser, especially, seemed like a portrait of 
me. Though I had never met Venus, she was a reality for me, 
and her image sometimes stood in the way of the life I longed 
to dedicate to art and the love of a pure woman. The dallying 
In the Venusberg made corporeal a situation I often confusedly 
Imagined. Flow did it come about that Wagner understood so 
well my nature and its problems? But of course it was really 
himself he understood and expressed in poetry and in music. 
In so doing, he understood and expressed sensitive souls like 

That there were pure and noble women In the world I knew 
at first hand. But that they existed for the redemption and 
solace of vacillating, erring (albeit essentially noble) men was 
a discovery I owed to Wagner. Except for Elsa, who faltered 
In her loyalty, the others were not only entirely dedicated to 
the men they loved, but they loved only men who required 
salvation. Elisabeth should have loved the pure and noble 
Wolfram, and a lesser artist than Wagner would have so ar- 
ranged it. But Wagner knew that the Wolframs of the world 
were morally self-sufficient they did not need salvation, as 
Tannhauser and I and (I presumed) Wagner himself needed it. 

Notwithstanding her imperious pride, her tantrums, her 
will to destruction, I counted Isolde a pure and single-minded 


woman. She was indeed, in a way, a more complete woman than 
Elisabeth, perhaps on account of those realistic traits she 
stormily exhibits in the first act, that touch of Venus in her, 
which at first made me hesitate to place her beside Wagner's 
immaculately good heroines. She soon became, though secretly, 
my favorite Wagnerian woman (I felt that her utter self- 
abnegation and tenderness in the second and third acts ab- 
solved her of her first-act weaknesses and her later deception 
of King Mark) . So completely, in fact, that in contemplat- 
ing her mentally, I quite forgot what I considered the main- 
spring of my existence the pursuit of art. And I understood 
that the death of Tristan was no accident of dueling, Isolde's 
"Love-Death" no consequence of heartbreak. Tristan and 
Isolde simply could not expose their searing, utterly exclusive 
passion for each other to an everyday world. There was no 
place in the world for such a love. Death, I agreed with 
Wagner, was their only possible future. 

Mr. Plesch received my new enthusiasm for Wagner with 
pleasure, but again refused to abet me in outlawing all other 
composers, reminding me of the existence and eminence of 
Richard Strauss, whose works I had yet to know. Would I, he 
inquired, be inclined to throw Wagner overboard when I got 
to know and admire Strauss? I could not imagine such a thing. 
"Well, then," Mr. Plesch counseled, "don't be hasty. Cherish 
all great men, though I have nothing against your having a 
favorite." Mr. Plesch then lent me his volume of Liszt's 
Wagner transcriptions for the piano. 

In my eagerness to learn Isolde's "Love-Death" I began to 
neglect my regular technical studies and the suites of Bach, on 
which I had only recently embarked. Mr. Plesch, protesting 
mildly, let me have my way. From Mr. Katz I purchased the 
vocal score of Tristan on the usual long-term arrangement. 
From the library I took home every book by Wagner or re- 
lating to him. The music of Wagner, his life, his ideals, even 
his polemics I read Judaism, in Music without distaste (how 

Widening Horizons 317 

could Wagner be wrong?) now filled my life. And to my 
astonishment and delight, Bernard Shaw's The Perfect Wag- 
nerite officially identified the Ring dramas with the philosophy 
of socialism. This made Wagner complete from every angle, 
and all other composers superfluous. 

I walked the streets as if on air. And my behavior at home 
reflected my consciousness of having finally matured, of hav- 
ing found at last the right key to art. This time I did not even 
wish to explore my new enthusiasm with Hannah or Molly. 
How could I convey to anyone except a perceptive musician 
and humanitarian philosopher like Mr. Plesch (who of course 
already knew it) the stature of Richard Wagner as artist and 
seer? I believe I comported myself at home and in the houses 
of friends with the air of one who was privileged to know 
something of great consequence, the esoteric complexity of 
which prevented him from sharing it with anyone not endowed 
by nature with special faculties to comprehend it. I was very 


Paradise of the Rich 


-N KATZ'S music store one day I was introduced to 
I. Jacobs. L Jacobs was well known on the East Side as a 
promising young pianist and teacher. The I stood for Israel, 
but he preferred to be called I. Jacobs, and even had cards 
printed with the initial for a first name. It was rumored that 
I. Jacobs contemplated giving a formal debut recital at 
Mendelssohn Hall the following year. People spoke of his 
good looks, his charm of manner, and his attraction for 
women. These reports seemed to be well founded. I. Jacobs 
was a handsome man of about seventeen, tall and rather plump, 
with a round face, blue eyes, a sharp nose, and delicate skin. 
His hair was blond and wavy, curled up at the ends and 
combed pompadour fashion. His hands were small, his fingers 
short and pudgy. His hand-clasp was warm, and his manner so 
friendly with a stranger like myself that I fell under his re- 
puted spell at once. 

A Paradise of the Rich 3 19 

I had never met a man so at ease and at the same time con- 
descending, but condescending in a charming, inoffensive, 
generous way. He talked about music and the problems of the 
piano, and illustrated some technical points he was making 
with a nonchalance that I found captivating and greatly 
envied. I felt I was in the presence of both an artist and a man 
of the world. And the accuracy of his fingerwork in the 
snatches he played brought home to me my own inadequacy 
in that department. I watched him with awe; and I thought he 
resembled Lord Byron (a patrician poet, handsome, generous, 
and condescending, whose biography I had read) or, better 
still, Steerforth! So Steerforth must have appeared to the ad- 
miring gaze of David Copperfield. I could well understand 
that women found I. Jacobs irresistible. 

We left the store together and walked up East Broadway. 
In the course of conversation I. Jacobs mentioned that he 
spent his summers in the Catskill Mountains at the Grand 
View Hotel on Kiamesha Lake. In return for playing the 
piano an hour or so each evening, he received board and lodg- 
ing and a handsome weekly stipend, the size of which he did 
not divulge. It was, he said, the pleasantest way of going on 
vacation, and he advised me to do the same. Of course, his was 
an unusual job. He played solos only (there was a special band 
for dancing) . But that was because the Grand View was the 
most expensive hotel on the lake and he was a particular friend 
of the proprietor's wife. The less expensive hotels engaged a 
violinist and a pianist who played for both entertainment and 
dancing. The violinist Rashkin, who was a friend of his 
(Rashkin was an esteemed virtuoso on the East Side), had the 
job at the Cedar View Hotel, a short distance from the Grand 
View; and Jacobs would be pleased to recommend me to him 
as pianist. I wondered aloud at his wishing to recommend me 
without hearing me play. I. Jacobs said that he had heard 
about my playing from Mr. Katz, and what was good enough 
for Mr. Katz was good enough for him. I was melted by his 


kindness and trust in me, and I hardly knew how to express 
my gratitude. At his request I gave him my address, which he 
noted down on one of his professional cards extracted from a 
brown leather wallet, and I left him at the stoop of a fine three- 
story brick house, near Gouverneur Street, where he resided 
on the second floor in an apartment that ran the entire length 
of the house! A brass plaque on the outside of the house an- 
nounced: "I. Jacobs, pianist and teacher." 

I dared not hope that a job in the Catskills would ma- 
terialize from a chance meeting with this amiable and humane 
artist. But I. Jacobs was as good as his word. A few days later 
I was summoned by letter to Mr, Rashkin's house on Jeffer- 
son Street for an interview. The letter threw our house into a 
turmoil. It marked, in a way, my acceptance by the world as a 
professional musician, and confounded my father's doggedly 
held belief that music, however ornamental an accomplish- 
ment, could not offer a serious, lucrative way of life. It 
promised an easement of the summer slack, which was now 
upon us with full force. But it also brought up the alarming 
consequence of my having to be separated from my family for 
the first time in my life. I wondered how I would endure such 
a parting. At the same time I was eager to see the fabled 
Catskills and the renowned Kiamesha Lake, where only rich 
people might sojourn, and to play for their delectation. 

Though I knew Mr. Rashkin by reputation, I had never 
seen him. He lived in a basement apartment, and a plaque on 
the door read: "Sol Rashkin, violin virtuoso and teacher." I 
was somewhat taken aback by his looks and speech, neither of 
which was of the superior kind I had expected in a violin 
virtuoso. Sol Rashkin was short and eel-like, with a swarthy 
yellow face and coarse hair. He looked about twenty, but I 
knew he was not more than seventeen. I could see he was 
obliged to shave often, for his chin and the sides of his face al- 
most to the eyes and his upper lip showed up bluish over the 
basic yellow of his skin. He was startlingly hirsute. Hair grew 

A Paradise of the Rich 321 

wherever it could, on the back of his hands, in his nostrils and 
ears, and low down on his forehead. A coarse, curly strand of 
hair protruded from an opening in his shirt where a button 
was missing. His voice was truculently husky, and he spoke 
without refinement. I could not help comparing him with 
I. Jacobs, whose appearance and speech bespoke the musician 
and gentleman. Could this be the Sol Rashkin whose tone on 
the violin was (I'd heard) of melting sweetness, and whose 
mournful double-stops in Zigeuneriveisen, his showpiece, 
clutched at one's heartstrings! 

Rashkin asked me if I had played summer jobs before. I 
said I hadn't. He then wanted to know if I read well at sight, 
and I replied that I did (as I believed), but he did not ask me 
to play. The pay, he said, was six dollars a week. Laundry 
would be my only expense the management stipulated a 
change of shirt three times a week. I was to meet Sol at the 
Courtland Street ferry the following Monday at eight in the 
morning. The interview over, I wondered if I might ask him to 
play. But his matter-of-fact references to music seemed to 
imply a strictly commercial consideration of art, and I 
refrained from asking him. I left with the impression that he 
was not the man to play the violin for pleasure alone. 

The news of my summer engagement was greeted at home 
with a mixture of pleasure and sadness and a burst of activity 
from my mother. I was in need of an outfit to meet the 
sartorial standards of the Playground of the Rich. Our 
finances, however, were, at the moment, at their lowest ebb 
since we had left Waterbury, and my mother's resourceful- 
ness was severly taxed to negotiate a loan. First she outlined a 
possible wardrobe. This included a lightweight dark-blue 
suit for formal occasions, two extra pairs of socks (I already 
owned two), four shirts (I owned two), four starched collars, 
and half a dozen handkerchiefs (I owned three) . This array, 
apart from the suit, was necessitated by the Cedar View 
management's exaggerated laundry-mindedness. 


On sober second thought, the new suit was abandoned as an 
extravagance, as the jacket of my old blue suit was in fair 
condition, though the pants were shiny (at night, when I 
should wear them, the pants would shine less brazenly) . In- 
stead, a pair of white pants was substituted as constituting, 
with a dark-blue jacket, the more stylish outfit for formal 
evening wear. The cost might be around six dollars. Hannah 
would have gladly raised with her ring more than the needed 
sum, but the "stone" was "out" just then, having relieved a 
friend from a threatened eviction. Every suggestion from 
Molly or rne of a source for borrowing the money was vetoed 
by my mother as one she had only recently tapped. But the 
next morning my mother returned from the grocery store 
downstairs with a load of provisions and six dollars! The 
grocer had not even been mentioned by us, as being quite out- 
side the bounds of possibility. Yet my mother had talked 
him into lending her the money, though he had filled an entire 
notebook with sums we had owed him for over a month! 
I could only guess at the exaggerated story she told him about 
my summer prospects; for he greeted me, when he next saw 
me, with unwonted deference, and said he hoped I would 
return in the fall a rich and celebrated artist. 

The day before my departure was a scorcher, hardly to be 
borne. It was even too hot to practice. But my mother, after 
finishing her household work late in the evening, mended my 
old shirts, socks, and underwear and set them to boil in a tin 
basin on the stove. I sat on the stoop talking with Molly until 
my mother had hung the wash on the clothesline. Then, red- 
faced and perspiring, she summoned us to bed. Long before I 
rose next morning, she had ironed my things and packed them 
in an old, unsteady valise. She was unusually silent and went 
about her work studiously avoiding looking at me. I, for my 
part, watched her with emotion. As the time approached for 
my leaving, I grew panicky, and considered, for a wild 
moment, canceling the trip. 

A Paradise of the Rich 323 

Hannah came down to bid me good-by. Molly, who had 
little control over herself, broke into sobs. I felt my heart 
aching unbearably with love for these three, and even for my 
father, who left his breakfast unfinished and hovered self- 
consciously in the background. But my mother kept doggedly 
busy and aggressively dry-eyed. At a certain moment every- 
thing seemed ready. My mother glanced at the small round 
tin clock that stood on the window ledge in the kitchen. 
"Finished," she exclaimed, tying a string around a paper 
bag in which she had packed my lunch of hard-boiled eggs, 
rolls, a tomato, and some salt In a tiny paper cone. I felt I 
must leave the house at once or I would break down. Hannah 
and Molly saw me off on the streetcar at the corner. I looked 
back at our window for a final glimpse of my mother. Only 
my father was there, waving his colored handkerchief in my 

The Cedar View Hotel was a large, sprawling wooden 
structure, three stories high, with a wide veranda halfway 
around the ground floor. Sol Rashkin and I were given a 
narrow, elongated room on the third floor. A small window 
offered a breath-taking view of a lake and great mountains 
in the not too far distance. On the four-hour train journey I 
had given myself up to feelings of loneliness and yearning for 
home, and had been obliged several times to seek refuge in the 
toilet to vomit or to cry. But when I looked out from our 
bedroom window at the panorama before me, I forgot, for the 
moment, my home and my family. The air was so clean that 
the pines on the side of the mountains stood out solid in dark 
velvet-green. They seemed so near to me that I thought a 
leap from the window would set me down in their midst. 
The lake, too, pellucid and emerald-green, seemed within 
hand-reach, though I knew it to be several hundred yards 
away. Some people were rowing boats, and I thought I could 
even make out their features. I had never imagined any part of 
the world to be so lovely. 


Sol was either too familiar with the scene or congenitally 
indifferent to lakes and mountains, for he busied himself 
unpacking his valise and hanging up his clothes on pegs 
screwed into the wall, never once looking out the window. 
Besides a bed and two chairs, the room held a tin washstand 
with a pitcher and bowl. Two shelves on a wall served as a 
dresser. When we had disposed our things and shoved our 
valises under the bed, Sol took his violin case and his music 
and we went down into the dining-room to rehearse. It was 
late afternoon, and waiters and waitresses were setting the 
tables for dinner. I sat down at the upright piano with trep- 
idation, never having accompanied anyone before. 

Sol warmed up with a few scales and passages, which he 
tossed off with terrifying confidence and ease. I struck a few 
chords tentatively, but my fingers were cold, though the 
dining-room was oppressively warm. "Let's try Zigeuner- 
weisen" Sol commanded. I picked out the music and placed it 
on the rack. It began with a few introductory solo bars for the 
piano. My hands trembled as I played. A moment later Sol 
came in with the same theme. The rich sound of his tone and 
the sureness and boldness of his fingers and bow were in star- 
tling contrast with the sound of the tinny piano and my uncer- 
tain playing. I counted four in a bar under my breath, so that I 
might not rush forward or lag behind the violin. But to my 
discomfiture Sol played freely, paying no heed to the direc- 
tions in the score. His style was improvisational, as if he 
thought up the music as he played. His throbbing tone and 
arrogantly erratic phrasing gave to his performance the stamp 
of authenticity. 

I accompanied him with difficulty. I could not anticipate 
the vagaries of his tempi and phrasing. Repeatedly he upset 
my calculations and did something I was not expecting. Several 
times I was hopelessly lost, and Sol stopped playing and said 
huskily: u Let's take that again." And there was that in his 
voice which warned me that he was impatient and displeased, 

A Paradise of the Rich 325 

and which In turn unnerved me so that I lost control of my 
fingers and my wits. The rehearsal was abruptly terminated. 
Sol stopped in the middle of a phrase, put his violin in its case, 
and, muttering obscenities, strode from the room. I gave way 
to tears. Yet I could not blame Sol, and I remained in the 
dining-room till near supper time, practicing my part of 
Zigeuneriveisen and some other pieces that Sol intended to 
play that evening. 

At half past six Sol came into the room carrying his violin 
case. He tuned perfunctorily while a waiter opened the 
double doors of the dining-room. We struck up the Double 
Eagle March. At the first notes, a horde of guests streamed in 
and hastily made for their tables. By the time we had played 
the march half through, the room was full of chattering men, 
women, and children. Even the strong tone of the violin was 
unable to penetrate the din, and before we had come to the 
end of the piece Sol motioned me to stop. Waiters came 
running in bearing large platters of salted herring cut in big 
chunks, great bowls of vapor-breathing, extra-large boiled 
potatoes, immense heaps of large, aromatic sliced onions, 
young scallions with tender white bulbs and maturer scallions 
with large, graying, peeling heads. Into wicker baskets on the 
tables they dumped fat slices of rye bread thick with caraway 
seeds, and chunks of chaleh which had been torn out by hand. 

Though the march had gone rather well, the piano part 
being only a succession of chords, I was grateful for the 
respite, and divided the time between going over mentally the 
tricky places in Zigeuner^oeisen and envying the clamorous and 
enthusiastic diners. Sol thought it would be useless to resume 
playing before the guests had been somewhat appeased by the 
seemingly inexhaustible succession of appetizers that kept 
arriving from the kitchen. He said the advent of soup would 
be our signal. And at the appearance of the huge tureens we 
played a Polish piece, Krako'wiak. The din had by now sub- 
sided and Krakoivictk was audible, though it had an added 


accompaniment In the sound of a mass intake of soup. It was 
not until the arrival of the double dessert of stewed prunes 
and watermelon that Sol pointed his bow at the music of 
Zigeunerweisen . 

He had chosen the proper moment for this powerful num- 
ber. The diners were now tired out and in a semi-comatose or, 
perhaps, a reflective condition. The moment I sounded the 
introduction, there was absolute quiet in the room. I played 
with more confidence than at our rehearsal. Indeed, I was 
about to give myself up to the enjoyment of Sol's sensuous 
tone when he suddenly hurried the repetition of a phrase that 
he had formerly taken quite slowly, and I found myself a bar 
or so behind him. Sol moved closer to me and began pointedly 
accenting some notes in the hope that this would help me find 
my place. But his proximity only aggravated my nervousness, 
and for a while we were distressingly at odds. At the height 
of my panic the violin broke off and I stopped automatically. 
I turned around anxiously to Sol for directions, but he was 
looking at the crowded tables. Pointing his bow backward at 
me, he demanded throatily: "What's the son of a bitch do- 
ing?" I was overwhelmed with shame, and I wheeled back to 
the piano for refuge. "From beginning!" Sol commanded. 
With tear-dimmed eyes I began the introduction again. This 
time Sol curbed his penchant for musical license, and the piece 
went off without serious mishap on my part, and elicited 
great applause. 

Thereafter I took care to learn all violin as well as piano 
parts of Sol's repertoire; and Sol, who did not like to rehearse, 
thought it wiser to go over the pieces frequently with me. 
These rehearsals were sad events, though I recognized the 
need for them. Sol's sarcasm was biting, and his use of 
profanity (I had not heard such words since my street-gang 
days, when I, too, used them, but without realizing their 
meaning) shocking. Afterwards I would run to my room and 
seek and find solace in the volume of Shelley which Mr. 

A Paradise of the Rich 327 

Plesch had given me on my birthday. The book contained a 
portrait of the poet. I gazed often at the sparse, feminine, 
delicate features, so different from Sol's swarthy, vulgar 
face and ferret-like eyes. Yet when he played, Sol, too, was a 
poet. I was disturbed by an inconsistency so glaring. I 
deplored the apparently haphazard way In which nature 
scattered its endowments. Why was not I, whose face, as I 
saw it reflected in a mirror, was delicate and spiritual (though 
not so incandescent as Shelley's), outfitted at birth with the 
genius and the power of a Shelley or a Sol Rashkin to move 
men's hearts? 

For consolation and advice I walked over in the afternoons 
to visit I. Jacobs at the Grand View Hotel. I refrained, of 
course, from telling him about my disappointment in the 
character of Sol Rashkin. But I did confess the handicap of my 
Inexperience as an accompanist. I. Jacobs understood, and was 
touchingly sympathetic. He undertook to show me what he 
referred to as the "tricks of the trade." These, he assured me, 
were well known among professionals and practiced by the 
best pianists, himself included. The "tricks" were, In effect, 
simplifications of difficulties, to be employed In certain 
contingencies, such as excessive nervousness, mental depres- 
sion, or physical Indisposition. 

"For example," I. Jacobs said, seating himself at the piano 
to illustrate, "you see in your piano part a long, difficult 
technical passage. Perhaps you haven't practiced it, or if you 
have you suddenly feel nervous about it and know you will not 
do It justice. So you look at the passage harmonically and you 
see that It is all in, let us say, C major. Well, you certainly can 
play, for instance, arpeggios in C major, can't you? So you 
make a fast decision, forget all about the passage as it is 
written, and play instead a series of C major arpeggios. Now, 
supposing that you are even too nervous to play arpeggios. In 
that case, forget about them and play C major chords instead. 
Since the harmony is all right, there is no harm done. No one 


(except the person you are playing with) will be the wiser," 
He added: "But whatever you do, do it with confidence. 
Confidence is half the game." And, indeed, he himself was the 
personification of that attitude. If confidence were contagious, 
I should have returned from my visits with I. Jacobs the 
boldest of pianists. But whatever optimism I rubbed off from 
I. Jacobs, Sol Rashkin speedily erased, 1 found that only hard 
practice could provide me with the stamina essential to a 
musical collaboration with Sol Rashkin. It was only many 
years later, when I collaborated with more humane, far 
greater artists than Sol Rashkin, that I was able, in critical 
moments, to employ some of the tricks I. Jacobs so generously 
taught me. 

Even more searing to my sensibilities than his cavalier and 
unfeeling treatment of me was Sol's unromantic, indeed las- 
civious approach to women. He was often late in going to bed. 
I would be awakened by his lighting the gas-jet and the noise 
he made in undressing. And as I turned, now wide-eyed, to 
the wall, pretending to be asleep, he would spell out the 
details of the night's adventure. The musician who only a few 
hours earlier had filled my heart with pure feelings of joy and 
tenderness now described his sordid conquests with depraved 
relish. I was relieved to find that his paramours were Polish 
and Irish chambermaids. I could not bear to think that Jewish 
girls could succumb to his coarse blandishments. 

He derided everything I cherished, and took delight in 
shocking me with obscene jokes and stories. I kept to myself 
when we were not playing together, so as to avoid his con- 
fidences. One of the guests, a young girl, delicate and pretty, 
and generally silent, smiled at me one evening as she left the 
dining-room with her parents. I had noticed her before, and 
her beauty and modesty brought vividly before me the figure 
of Elsa von Brabant in Lohengrin. I decided to love her, though 
she should never guess my passion. Indeed, she looked so 

A Paradise of the Rich 329 

fragile that I could not imagine her loving any man in an 
earthy sense. And when she gave me a passing smile, I felt 
that it was more than I could hope for or deserved. To my 
horror Sol caught the smile and saw my ecstatic face. He 
followed her out of the room with an appraising eye. "I 
suppose you like that kind of thing," he remarked with a 
sneer. 'Thin as a rail nothing anywhere" and he made all 
too vivid gestures with his hands. I turned away and weakly 
said: "I don't know whom you mean." 

The intensity of my love grew hourly. I caught glimpses 
of her in the dining-room, rocking on the porch, or sitting on 
the lawns. I walked in the pine woods hoping that I would 
encounter her and that she would notice me and smile again; 
or I sprawled on the grass, pretending to be absorbed in my 
volume of Shelley and praying that she might pass by and ask 
me what I was reading and I would tell her about my favorite 
poet and read her The Sensitive Plant (which she so resembled) 
or "I arise from dreams of thee," and so convey obliquely my 
love and my torment! But she never came close enough, and I 
had to content myself with watching her slim figure from a 

When I lay down in bed at night, I would invoke her 
image and say to her: "You will stand before me the whole 
night through, and when I arise it will be from 'dreams of 
thee.' " And every night she stood in front of me the moment 
I shut my eyes, and in the morning I awoke with thoughts of 
her only, as if I had not slept at all. Sometimes from my win- 
dow I would see her walking toward the lake, as if she had 
only just left my dream and emerged into the reality of 
mountain air and sun-reflecting water. All this Sol never 
suspected. Nor could he have understood it if he had. 

One late afternoon, an hour before supper, when the guests 
either had not returned from walks or mountain-climbing or 
were napping or preparing themselves for the evening meal, 


I went down to the lake, got into a rowboat, and idly rowed 
close to the shore, watching the cloudless, darkening sky and 
absorbing the gray quiet. Then I became aware of a figure 
coming down the path from the hotel, and my heart stopped 
beating. It was she. Not a soul else was about. 

She walked as if in thought, with her eyes on the ground, 
and saw me only when she reached the water's edge. She was 
dressed for the evening in a pale-blue silk dress, and she 
looked touchingly slight and insubstantial. When she saw me, 
I was a few feet from the water's edge. She stood quietly, and 
her eyes left mine and rested on the far mountains. For a 
while everything looked transfixed, as if absolutely nothing 
was occurring, not even time. Then I felt a new and strange 
emotion. I was seized by courage. "Would you," I called out 
suddenly and boldly, a care to go for a row?" She said: "Yes," 
distinctly. I rowed to the shore, close to where she stood. I let 
go the oars and, leaning forward, stretched out my right hand, 
which she took. I permitted myself a momentary awareness 
of her touch (this feeling I instantly laid aside as something to 
examine in detail and savor at some other, less crucial time) . 
She placed one foot in the boat. But as she did so, the boat 
moved lightly away. Before she could put her other foot into 
the boat, the distance between us widened. Instead of releasing 
her hand, I held it tightly, expecting to draw her into the 
boat. This did not happen. As the boat drifted silently away, 
her legs separated alarmingly. I still clung to the hope that 
she would, at the final moment, make the leap. Then a sudden 
movement of the boat tore our hands apart and she fell like an 
open pair of scissors into the lake. 

I sat in the drifting boat quite drained of all feeling. Like a 
disinterested spectator, I watched her submerge and rise, 
scramble up the bank, and stand there irresolutely, dripping 
and disheveled, her silk dress clinging to and outlining her 
body. The sight of the figure, grotesque, unromantic, even 

A Paradise of the Rich 3 3 1 

comical, brought back my senses and my will, and I seized 
the oars and hastily made for the shore. But by then she was 
running toward the hotel, and when I tied up the boat to the 
dock she was nowhere in sight. 

She did not come down to supper. When I got into bed I 
went through my accustomed ritual and summoned her 
image to appear to me. But the only image I could evoke was 
the pitiful, ludicrous one I had last seen. I brooded during 
most of the night over the stupidity, the enormity of my 
behavior, and wondered how I could ever face her. 

But I was destined never to see her again. For the very next 
day, just before lunch, Sol was summoned to the manager's 
office, accused of improper behavior toward a female guest, 
and told that we must leave at once. Sol called the manager 
names and invited him out on the lawn to fight, a summons 
that the manager, unfortunately for himself, accepted. I 
watched the battle from the window of my room. The mana- 
ger, though plucky, was no match for Sol, who felled him 
with a blow and left him senseless on the ground. Sol was for 
remaining until the next morning so as not to miss supper, but 
a constable was summoned to hasten our departure. So we 
left Kiamesha Lake after a bare two weeks' employment at the 
Cedar View Hotel. 

My unexpected arrival home caused a great commotion, as 
if I had been away for years, and I was hugged and made much 
of, and it was some time before I could tell my story. I had 
had no supper and my mother commanded Molly to go down 
to the grocery store for a tin of herring in tomato sauce and 
some rolls. Molly's hesitation to go to the grocer's brought 
back to my mind the precarious nature of the family's credit 
situation. I reached into my back pocket, pulled out my two 
weeks' wages in eleven crinkled dollar bills (I had spent one 
dollar for laundry), and gave them to my mother, who counted 
out six of them into Molly's hands and told her to give them to 


the grocer on account and to say nothing of my return. I did 
not doubt that my mother herself would have something 
plausible to tell him by morning. 

Later Molly and I took a walk on Madison Avenue and I 
was brought up to date on matters pertaining to our family 
and friends . I learned that Molly had broken with the Plesches ! 
In the first week of my absence Mrs. Plesch had written 
asking her to come to Bay Ridge for Sunday supper, and 
Molly, greatly flattered, had gone. There she had been intro- 
duced to Mr. Cartwright, an Englishman of middle age, who 
thereafter never left her side. He expounded in great detail the 
philosophy of anarchism, with special emphasis on its effect 
on the relations of the sexes. He had asked permission to see 
her home, and when he said good-night on the stoop of our 
house, he had invited her to a concert and ball in Webster 
Hall on the following evening. Molly had consulted Hannah on 
the propriety of accepting an invitation from a man she had 
only just met, but Hannah thought Mr. Cartwright' s friend- 
ship with the Plesches guaranteed his respectability. At any 
rate, she saw no harm in going to a concert and ball. 

At the ball, as they were waltzing, Mr. Cartwright had 
made Molly the extraordinary proposal that she should 
accompany him to his apartment near by. Molly left him then 
and there in the middle of the dance, and arrived home alone 
in a state of bewilderment and shock. She had not breathed a 
word of this to anyone but me. But the incident had cooled 
her toward anarchism and all its exponents. She absolved 
Mr. Plesch from any blame for the behavior of his friend, but 
she thought Mrs. Plesch might have conspired with Mr. 
Cartwright in the attempt to introduce her to the rites of free 
love. Because of the unsavory episode Molly was now inclined 
to question the basic philosophy of anarchism, which rested, 
so it appeared to her, only on the assumed natural goodness of 
people. She discovered little natural goodness in Mrs. Plesch 
and certainly none in Mr. Cartwright. She was even inclined 

A Paradise of the Rich 333 

to question the natural goodness of Emma Goldman, Johann 
Most, and other great figures of militant anarchism. 

Still smarting from my fortnight's intimacy with Sol 
Rashkin, I could not but share Molly's disillusionment with 
the human race, and I wondered again whether socialism, with 
its curbs on the evil and predatory instincts of people, rather 
than anarchism, was not perhaps the best hope of the future. 
As for Mr. Plesch, I hesitatingly permitted myself to appraise 
him anew in the light of Molly's experience with Mr. Cart- 
wright and my own with Sol; and I arrived at the conclusion 
that he was a weak, good man who mistakenly endowed hu- 
manity with his own virtues. I also began to see him in a new 
perspective as a pedagogue a weak idealist, unable to main- 
tain discipline and prone to be indulgent where his affections 
were involved. I realized that at rny time of life I should be 
playing the piano with the assurance and command of an I. 
Jacobs, and that I would never acquire these qualities except 
under the pressure of the strictest discipline. I revealed to 
Molly these doubts and my reluctance to continue my studies 
with Mr. Plesch. She agreed with me that it was time for a 
change. In both our minds was the desire to divorce ourselves 
completely from anarchism and anarchists. 



I ow again as in the old days on the East Side our 
flat was never without guests from overseas. Friends and 
relatives from Russia came to us in an unbroken stream and 
stayed until they found jobs and suitable lodgings. The rate of 
the turnover varied. Sometimes a visitor remained only a 
week, when he was summoned to a distant town by some 
closer relative. Sometimes he lodged with us for months. 

I recall a lengthy tenure by a very distant relation who 
brought with him a man he had met on the voyage over. They 
slept in the windowless room next to the kitchen. The distant 
cousin was naive to the point of being a simpleton, and his 
continual inconsequential chatter amused me, though it an- 
noyed the rest of the family. He and his friend were unfail- 
ingly cheerful and childishly optimistic about their prospects 
in New York. Both were tailors, and they soon found work 

Sergei 335 

in a sweatshop. They did not seem to mind the long hours, the 
lack of light and ventilation, and the unfeeling attitude of the 
foremen and boss. They hoped someday to own a sweatshop 
of their own. In the meantime they showed no inclination to 
leave us, and offered to pay us something for board and lodg- 
ing. In our impecunious state such an offer was tempting. But 
the pair were unsanitary to a degree that exceeded the laxity 
permitted to persons in our economic station. My cousin and 
his friend were cheerfully indifferent to the vermin that, hid- 
den in their clothes and belongings, had left Russia with them 
and accompanied them to America; and my mother, who was 
not inclined to be over-finicky in such matters, was obliged 
to speak out and to urge them to seek lodgings elsewhere. 

I believe our visitors found our house congenial, for they 
made a valiant attempt to meet my mother's hygienic require- 
ments. Many nights when everyone but I was asleep they 
would stay up and painstakingly explore the seams of their 
undergarments and clothing, prattling the while in a subdued 
but cheerful undertone about quite alien matters. Indeed, the 
men were so pathetically eager to remain that they would 
eventually have sufficiently deloused themselves to overcome 
my mother's objections. But their hopes were dashed by a 
letter my father one day received from his first cousin in 
Russia, announcing the imminent arrival in New York of the 
cousin's son Sergei Drasin and Ms friend Joseph Cohen. One's 
obligation to a first cousin took precedence over that to a 
cousin of lesser rank, and my mother now succeeded in dis- 
lodging the amiable boarders by means less controversial 
than a charge of uncleanliness. 

At the moment I was deep in the novels of Turgeniev, and 
the name Sergei and what I could learn of his history led me 
to identify my cousin with some of the revolutionary heroes 
of my favorite author. My father hinted that Sergei had been a 
thorn in his family's side in Russia. Though brought up in 
strict orthodox Jewish fashion, he had early been beguiled by 


Christian learning. He had dropped his Jewish studies and 
prepared himself for Gymnasium (Russian high school), 
where he had been accepted as one of the small quota of Jews. 
More grievous still, he had joined a band of revolutionaries ! 
("Heathens! Anarchists! Nihilists! God knows what!" my 
father called them) and had in due course been apprehended 
by the authorities and confined in prison for nine months. 
Having only recently been released, Sergei had given in to the 
pleadings of his mother to flee the country before he got into 
worse trouble. My father added grudgingly that Sergei was 
not really evil at heart, only weak in character and, in conse- 
quence, an easy prey to evil influences. 

When Sergei entered our house, followed by his friend, a 
pock-marked, short youth, both of them wearing long Russian 
blouses and belts, I instantly saw them as Bazarov and his 
disciple Arkady, the hero and his acolyte straight out of 
Fathers and Sonsl Sergei, in truth, had a mild, kind face, but I 
chose to read into it the haughtiness and disdain with which 
Turgeniev had endowed Bazarov. I could hardly believe that I 
stood in the actual presence of a fighter for Russian freedom 
who had just emerged from solitary confinement in a tsarist 
dungeon (later I learned with sorrow that Sergei had been 
one of a large company in a large cell) . At bedtime I begged 
him to take my bunk on the top of the tin bathtub, but he 
refused, saying it didn't matter to him where he slept, and he 
and his friend retired to the windowless room of their prede- 

I longed to be of service to Sergei, and offered to show him 
the city. This would give me the chance to be alone with him, 
to draw him out on the subject of his heroic past and to get 
his opinions about literature and life in general. Like Bazarov, 
Sergei to my satisfaction showed little enthusiasm for any- 
thing. He accepted my invitation politely, yet in the man- 
ner of one conferring a favor, at least so it seemed to me. 
We rode on the Second Avenue elevated. He still wore his 

Sergei < 337 

Russian blouse and smelled of "ship," and he looked every bit 
the revolutionary. I felt proud to be seen with him. He was 
twenty-three, and I was fifteen and a half, so I hastened to 
impress him with the maturity of my intellect and ideas. I 
asked him if he knew Hamlet, and he looked at me with 
surprise and embarked on a long speech in Russian which, by 
its rhythm and magniloquence, I took to be a famous quotation 
from that tragedy. I probed him on all intellectual subjects. 
His knowledge of Russian literature seemed vast. He quoted 
poetry, which surprised me in a revolutionary. Bazarov, I 
recalled, had contempt for poetry as a form of sentimental 
distraction quite unrelated to the harsh realities of the revolu- 
tionary struggle, as he had contempt for Arkady's father's 
addiction to the cello. 

"Was Lermontov the Russian Byron?" I asked, and Sergei 
repeated the Russian poet's own modest disclaimer: "I am 
not Byron." As he talked, I was obliged to make a quick 
revision of my mental picture of a revolutionary. After all, 
Bazarov was a fictional revolutionist; Sergei was the real 
thing, fresh from incarceration. Sergei had kind eyes and a 
deep, disarming dimple in the very middle of his chin, rather 
disconcerting characteristics in a Nihilist. Bazarov was 
physically and ideationally granitic, Sergei not so. Sergei 
looked as if he could never be ruthless, as Bazarov was. 
Which type was the better equipped to liberate Russia? I 
could not tell. Sergei's eyes hinted at a character too humane 
for the carrying out of the impersonal measures of general 
destruction which would clear the way for the advent of the 
Brotherhood of Man. 

I probed Sergei on religion. He revealed himself a dogmatic 
atheist. Religion, he stated flatly, was another name for 
superstition. I agreed. But I secretly hoped that he meant 
superstition in a theological sense, not the small superstitions 
I practiced to ward off evil and to bring me good luck. We got 
off at Fourteenth Street and walked westward, talking all the 


while. I took Sergei into Siegel Cooper's store and showed him 
the celebrated fountain. We then walked downtown to 
Grand Street, and I pointed out well-known shops and thea- 
ters. But Sergei exhibited little interest, as befitted a serious 
revolutionary. By the time we returned home on the street- 
cars, Sergei and I were on a delightfully friendly footing. He 
did not exactly make me feel like an equal, but he did not 
treat me with the intellectual superiority with which Bazarov 
had treated Arkady. That was gratifying, in a way. Yet it had 
the effect of diminishing Sergei's stature as a revolutionary. 

For some weeks Sergei enjoyed leisure; that is, he did not 
look around for work, but devoted all his time to studying 
English with the aid of an English-Russian grammar. I offered 
to help him and felt honored by his acceptance. His progress 
was extraordinarily rapid, for, aside from his diligence, his 
knowledge of Latin (he could quote pages of Caesar's Com- 
mentaries and Virgil) made English easy for him. 

In the evenings I would invite him to walk with me in the 
privacy of Central Park, Sometimes at my insistence Molly 
would accompany us. I shared all my enthusiasms with her, 
and I wanted her not only to get the benefit of Sergei's 
revolutionary opinions and beliefs, but also to take account 
of the extent of my intimacy with him. To my surprise, Molly 
showed no especial interest in my cousin he was really no 
relation of hers. On our walks she always managed to place 
me between herself and Sergei. This pleased me, as in that 
way I had Sergei all to myself and we could converse without 
interruption. I was all the more astonished when one evening, 
on returning from an errand my mother had sent me on, I 
found that Sergei and Molly had gone for a walk without 
waiting for me. I went to look for them in the Park, but they 
were not in any of the lanes we usually walked in. Nor did 
they return until quite late, I could not help feeling piqued 
that Sergei could dispense with my company for so long a time. 
I felt sure that Molly, notwithstanding her vitality and charm, 

Sergei 339 

could hardly be an adequate substitute on a two hours' walk 
for a passionate intellectual like myself. 

In less than two months Sergei spoke and read English 
fairly well. At that point he and his friend applied themselves 
to finding jobs. And after weeks of answering want ads in the 
New York World and the Jewish dailies, they were taken on as 
apprentice painters at twelve dollars a week in a railroad yard 
In Westchester. Thither they were obliged to move, to my 
regret, for I could now see and talk to Sergei only on Sun- 
days, when he came to spend the day. But even these Sundays 
were less rewarding than I had expected. For when dinner 
was over, Sergei and Molly would manage to disappear with- 
out saying a word to me 'while I was practicing the piano or 
otherwise employed. Sometimes I would catch up with them 
in the Park. But I failed to draw Sergei out as I had used to do. 

I became a prey to the horrid suspicion that I was not 
wanted, that Sergei preferred Molly's company to mine. But 
Molly's behavior in Sergei's presence always reassured me. 
She appeared to be Indifferent and offhand, and almost always 
suggested our return home the moment I joined them. Any- 
way, were she to feel anything about my cousin, I felt sure 
she would tell me. She had never hesitated to talk to me about 
her suitors. I, in my turn, confided in her, even going so far as 
to acquaint her with my recent passion for the delicate, 
unfortunate young lady at Kiamesha Lake. Whatever Sergei 
felt about my sister, it was plain to me, by her silence, that 
she was not in love. 

Yet, though my reason reassured me, I could not shake off 
a recurring feeling of vague dissatisfaction, of hurt pride, of 
vexatious discomfort. Between the two something was going 
on to which I was not a party. Sergei was often kind and 
informative, but I no longer felt the elation of being singled 
out. Once, when the three of us were walking on Madison 
Avenue, Sergei gave me a nickel to buy myself a soda in an 
ice-cream parlor we were passing. It was a warm Sunday, 


and I enjoyed the soda. But when I emerged from the parlor, 
Sergei and Molly were nowhere in sight. After a futile search 
of side streets, I went home, but it was more than an hour 
later when they appeared, Molly complaining that they had 
looked for me everywhere, even in the Park, and could not 
imagine what had become of me! This could hardly be the 
truth. I was taken aback by her duplicity. But Sergei's silence 
smote me to the heart. Bazarov would never have stooped to 
deceit, even tacitly. If Sergei loved Molly, why didn't he 
come out with it like a man and a revolutionary? I recalled the 
passage in Fathers and Sons in which Bazarov discussed with 
Arkady his passion for Madame Odintsova, and even confided 
to the peasant coachman who was driving them his chagrin at 
having been outsmarted by that unfeeling lady! Bazarov hid 
nothing from his friend. With bitterness I told myself that 
Sergei was not the real thing. 

My fears proved to be only too well-founded. My mother 
and father spoke in my presence unfavorably of the intimacy 
of the pair, my mother because she foresaw a life of poverty 
and drudgery for her daughter, my father because of his 
congenital hostility to the happiness of his stepchildren. And 
one night Molly herself dispelled all doubt by announcing her 
engagement to Sergei. To my mother's reasoned objections 
she opposed a passionate stubbornness for which her former 
simulated indifference had not at all prepared us. She countered 
my father's cold opposition with a bold declaration of love 
for Sergei. "She loves him!" my father mimicked scornfully. 
"What kind of nonsense is that! They love! They don't love! 
At home [meaning in Russia] one never heard the word 'love' ! 
One loved after marriage, not before. Sergei is my sister's 
child, and I had a duty to befriend him. But he is a heathen. 
He holds nothing sacred, neither God nor Tsar! Do you have 
to love him"? Can't you love somebody else?" 

But it was all to no avail. At Molly's behest Sergei no 
longer visited us on Sundays. But they met in the Park, where 

Sergei 341 

they walked about all day and took shelter in ice-cream 
parlors when it rained. Without relaxing her opposition, my 
mother sent me after them to the Park with a paper bag full of 
hard-boiled eggs and buttered rolls. The three of us sat on the 
grass and ate our lunch. By then I had become a confidant and 
ally. Molly had asked my forgiveness for her evasions, and 
Sergei, in his trouble, turned to me for advice. This at once 
restored my former esteem for him, and the contemplation of 
his future dual relationship of cousin and brother-in-law gave 
me pleasure. 

They could, of course, easily resolve their difficulties by 
eloping, a method that Molly herself suggested. This, how- 
ever, Sergei, much to my astonishment, opposed. Instead, he 
suggested conciliation. (Bazarov would have frowned on 
marriage itself as a bourgeois institution. He would have 
lived openly with Molly, defying my mother and father and 
the whole world, if need be!) Sergei held the opinion that in 
time my mother would give way. If that should happen, my 
father could not hold out much longer, for, owing to my 
economic ascendancy, his power in family matters was waning 
perceptibly. Faced with a united front of my mother and me, 
he would eventually be forced to capitulate or else himself 
seek another home, an alternative most unacceptable to him. 
I could see the force of such reasoning. After all, things were 
different from the days when I would be sent by my mother to 
Zalman Reich's with a peace-offering of gefilte fish and 
chaleh to plead with my father to return home. 

Sergei's counsel, though regrettably wanting in revolu- 
tionary defiance, bore fruit. I was delegated to work on my 
mother, which I did earnestly and with great enthusiasm. I 
painted Sergei as a man awakened to reality and its responsi- 
bilities by love, and I went so far (with, indeed, a heavy heart) 
as to hint that, once married, he would lose his revolutionary 
ardor and aims and devote himself exclusively to wife and 
children. I also added that Sergei had had an offer of a steady 


house-painting job in Waterbury at fifteen dollars a week. 
There being no more desirable suitor at hand, my mother was 
unable to withstand the logic and passion of my intervention. 
Furthermore, she found herself in the indefensible position of 
siding with my father against her children (Hannah had, of 
course, joined our faction). She capitulated. And to soften the 
blow of her defection to "our" side, she made the suggestion 
that my father should be invited by Molly to officiate at the 
wedding ceremony. Realizing now that further opposition 
would be futile, my father very sensibly accepted both the 
situation and Molly's invitation to him to preside at her 
wedding. So Molly and Sergei were married, and removed to 

Before a year had passed, Molly gave birth to a son. At my 
suggestion the infant was named Walt Whitman, whose 
poetry both Molly and I constantly read. Naming a child after 
anyone but a deceased relative was unheard of among respect- 
able Jews. I was therefore obliged to pretend to my father 
and mother that Whitman was the Anglicized form of Velvel, 
the name of a deceased relation of Sergei's in Russia. Fortu- 
nately my father could recall some such relative, and no more 
was said about the matter. I nicknamed my new nephew 
"Whitty," and only his parents, Hannah, and I knew the 
secret of its origin. I hoped that the child would grow up to be 
a poet like his namesake, or, at the least, a good-hearted, 
well-read, sensitive man. 

In the meantime Whitty's father had settled down, as I had 
promised my mother he would, into a kind and devoted hus- 
band, industrious to a degree. His resemblance to Bazarov 
grew less and less distinct, and I felt more and more that I was 
his intellectual equal. As the application of a proper chemical 
reveals words that have been written in invisible ink, so 
marriage had brought to the surface Sergei's orthodox vir- 
tues, and I recognized their beneficent effect on Molly's com- 
fort and peace of mind. Had Sergei been a Bazarov, he might 

Sergei 343 

not even have fallen in love with Molly, who, though a girl of 
spirit and charm, possessed neither the challenging maturity 
and cynicism of a Madame Odintsova nor the intellectual and 
moral passion of that ideal revolutionary mate, Elena, the 
dedicated, self-sacrificing soul-mate of the proud Bulgarian 
revolutionary Insarov, in Turgeniev's On the Eve. I loved 
Sergei for Molly's sake and later on for his own. Yet often I 
recalled that he had had it in his power to be different, and I 
rather wished that he had had the strength to resist his passion 
for a simple girl like my sister. His marriage and its restric- 
tive consequences had perhaps cut short an important revolu- 
tionary career. It had certainly robbed me of a hero and an 



.OLLY'S marriage once more disrupted our 
household economy, which now called for a move either to in- 
crease the family's earning power or to lower its living costs. 
From a commercial point of view, Madison Avenue had been a 
disappointment. The Jewish elite had not bombarded my 
father with requests to perform marriages and circumcisions, 
and most of what money I earned came from the lower East 
Side. In a family council in which for the first time I partici- 
pated as an equal, we weighed the advantages of a move to 
the scenes of my childhood, the lower East Side. For one 
thing, I should no longer waste hours in traveling; and my 
being always on the spot and immediately accessible to 
prospective pupils from the neighborhood must certainly 
result in an increase in my earnings. My father, too, was sure 
to benefit from a move to a less "high-toned" part of town. 

Debut 345 

Most of his friends and acquaintances lived on the lower East 
Side. He might gather a brand-new clientele from among their 
friends and acquaintances. Then there was Mr. Beylinson, his 
former pupil and more recent benefactor. Mr. Beylinson 
resided close to his ice-cream factory on Grand Street. 
Proximity to Mr. Beylinson was desirable in the event of 
sudden financial emergencies. In fact, he had once hinted to 
my father that if "one" lived closer to him he might be in a 
position to "throw him something" once in a while. 

Immediately after Molly's marriage my father, at my 
mother's instigation, called on Mr. Beylinson to explore the 
nature of that "something" and to acquaint him with our 
resolve to move downtown. By good fortune the "something" 
was immediately available to my father. It related to the 
weekly collection of sums owed Mr. Beylinson's ice-cream 
factory by numerous ice-cream parlors in New York and its 
environs. It was a part-time occupation, and could be disposed 
of in two days a week. It required no knowledge of English. 
My father would be given duplicate bills in Yiddish. The 
salary was five dollars a week and car fare. 

My father did not immediately accept. Bringing home the 
momentous offer, he asked us, and himself, whether bill- 
collecting was consonant with the dignity of the profession of 
shochet and mohel? We could not, in honesty, say it was. 
My mother, however, hit on a solution of the delicate problem. 
My father was to accept the job and after a token collection or 
two turn it over to me, first obtaining, of course, Mr. Beylin- 
son's consent. On hearing the suggested compromise, Mr. 
Beylinson acquiesced, confessing that he, too, had worried 
about the question of propriety involved in my father's ac- 
ceptance of a commercial task that had no religious connota- 
tion like, for example, the sale of matzoth and Passover wine. 

We moved into a four-room tenement on Rivington Street 
at the corner of Gouverneur. The rent was twelve dollars a 
month. Our upstairs neighbor on Madison Avenue, Naomi 


Finkle, the schoolteacher, entered into an arrangement with 
my mother whereby Naomi, who taught in a school close to 
Rivington Street, would eat lunch at our house five days a 
week for six dollars a month. This, my mother figured, would, 
in effect, reduce our rent to seven dollars. She minimized 
the cost of feeding Miss Finkle, alleging that she was a tiny 
person (as she was) who ate "like a bird." Thus, when we 
were settled in Rivington Street, our economy presented 
approximately the following picture per month: 

INCOME : Ice-cream collections $20 

Piano lessons and lessons in 
English 20 

Sale of matzoth and Pass- 
over wine (on the aver- 
age) ^ 2 

Sarah's contribution from 
wages 1 6 

Miss Finkle' s lunches 6 

Weddings, circumcisions, 
slaughtering of chickens, 
etc. 6 

Total $70 

OUTGO: Rent $12 

Food 50 
Clothing, shoes, gas, and 

synagogue dues 1 5 

Total $77 

The imbalance between income and expenditure was not 
considered improper. Indeed, my mother thought it rather 
favorable, and claimed that our prospects looked bright for the 
first time since we had left Waterbury. 

If our prospects looked bright, even brighter was my out- 
look on the world. There appeared to be no limit to my 

Debut 347 

discoveries in the realm of music. Living now within ten 
minutes* walk from Katz's music store, I established the 
closest relations with Mr. Katz, and soon the shop became my 
second home. There I was free to examine the sheet music and 
the bound volumes reposing in cardboard folders on a sea of 
shelves behind the counter. Mr. Katz was a married man with 
two children, and his business sense was of necessity keen. He 
had been a singer himself, a basso. He had prudently put his 
savings into this shop, and he had prospered. His love of 
music and musicians expressed itself in his kindness to enthu- 
siastic, indigent students like myself. No longer was I con- 
strained to buy music. On his small piano I tried out a never- 
ending series of classic masterpieces; and when, as with the 
later Beethoven sonatas, I felt the absolute need of posses- 
sion, Mr. Katz allowed me the same large discount he gave to 
an eminent pedagogue like Tramonti. 

I began frequenting Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan 
Opera House. In Katz's store I learned that money was not 
essential in gaining admission to these temples of music. One 
of the piano students who, like rne, hung around the store won- 
dered that I had not heard the great Polish pianist Vladimir 
de Pachmann. And on my confessing that I couldn't afford to 
buy a ticket, he declared a ticket was not necessary, and 
invited me to accompany him to the virtuoso's next recital. 

We gave ourselves time to walk to Carnegie Hall, thus sav- 
ing twenty cents in car fare. Once there, my friend advised me 
to stick close to him, and on no account to say anything to any- 
one. Then, with me behind him, he joined the crowd that, 
tickets in hand, pressed at the gate of the ticket-taker. When 
his turn arrived, my friend rushed so quickly past the ticket- 
taker that the man could barely put forth a restraining hand 
before I too had passed him. Me, however, he stopped, and 
demanded my ticket. Whereupon my friend boldly called 
back: "That's all right! He's with me" and drew me for- 
ward. The ticket-taker appeared satisfied with this explana- 


tion. At any rate, his attention was immediately diverted by 
the press of impatient ticket-holders behind us, and a second 
later we were safely inside the auditorium, two anonymous 
youths among a large group of standees. 

The incomparable De Pachmann did not command my 
entire attention, for I expected the ticket-taker to appear at 
any moment and order us to leave the hall. But we were safe 
enough; and toward the end of the concert I felt sufficiently at 
ease to be ravished by a group of Chopin mazurkas which the 
pianist played with shimmering coloring and an ease I thought 
I could duplicate. Yet when I tried out these same muzurkas 
in Katz's store, I found them not at all easy to play. Nor could 
I summon the variety of tone-colors De Pachmann had, so to 
speak, shaken out of his sleeve. Every celebrated virtuoso I 
listened to invariably sent me confidently to the piano to 
repeat what I had heard. And, invariably, the music con- 
fronted me with difficulties that had not existed for the 

My colleague taught me many ways of informally gaining 
admittance to Carnegie Hall. The Metropolitan Opera House, 
however, was another matter. There the ticket-taker at the 
main entrance had once been too quick for my friend, who, 
his ruse having been instantly discovered, turned tail and fled 
from the building. But only to rush around the corner to the 
gallery entrance on Fortieth Street. On the way he picked up 
a discarded ticket envelope and in it placed a quarter. Climbing 
the staircase to its very top, he handed the envelope to the 
ticket-taker at the gallery gate. That practical employee, 
feeling the coin in the envelope, acknowledged what was then 
a time-honored practice by calmly admitting my crafty 
friend. I too came to employ this ruse, and the frequency of 
my visits to the Metropolitan depended only on the number 
of quarters I could round up. Fortunately for the well-being of 
my family, I desired to witness only the music dramas of 

Debut 349 

Wagner. My visits to the Metropolitan were therefore not 
unreasonably frequent. 

The Metropolitan performances were heatedly debated in 
Katz's store. Each of us had his favorite artists. Mine, of 
course, were limited to those who appeared in the Wagnerian 
operas. The majority of the vocal students and teachers who 
gathered in the store to voice enthusiasms and exchange 
opinions espoused only Italian and French opera and the 
artists who appeared in them. I could not understand their 
bias for what I believed to be a perversion of opera, whose 
true function only Richard Wagner fully understood. In my 
ignorant childhood I had loved the music of Verdi and a few 
other melodious Italian composers. But that was before I came 
to know the music dramas of Wagner, which were based on 
lofty ethical ideas and noble emotions, which in turn gave 
birth to a kind of endless melody that could not exist apart from 
them. Compared with this kind of music, hqw tawdry and 
meaningless were the collections of tunes that constituted 
Italian opera! 

I heard endless talk at Katz's about Italian bel canto. For 
myself I scorned the idea of vocalism as an end in itself. Of 
what use was beautiful singing of music that had neither 
validity nor Importance? I could not care that Madame 
Sembrich sang trills, roulades, arpeggios, and scales with the 
precision of an Instrumental virtuoso. With all her vocal 
resources she could never convey the nobility of Elisabeth in 
Tannhauser. Nor did she even wish to portray that self- 
sacrificing, tender virgin; preferring instead to please the 
groundlings with the coloratura fireworks of an allegedly in- 
sane Lucia di Lammermoor. Another example of misguided 
ambition was Enrico Caruso, the "golden-voiced" tenor who 
had become the financial mainstay of the Metropolitan. His 
voice was exceptional, that I freely admitted. But to what base 
uses was he putting it three or four times a week! Not for him 


the mystical, virtuous Lohengrin, the erring and later repent- 
ant Tannhauser, the noble Siegfried, the love-ravaged Tristan. 
For him (the more the pity) the sensual Duke in Rigoktto, 
the clown in the melodious / Paghacci, the one-dimensional 
Faust in Gounod's musical travesty of Goethe's tragedy. 
Most of the disputants in Katz's store were partisans of 
Caruso, and I battled unaided. Had the quality of Caruso's 
voice been controversial, my attack on the tenor as an artist 
would have been successful. My opponents untiringly in- 
sisted on the sensational beauty of his voice. "I agree," I said 
at one particularly stormy session; "Caruso is like a man who, 
possessing the most beautiful handwriting in the world, uses 
his penmanship in forging checks." This neat retort was 
admired for itself. But it convinced no one. 

The low musical taste of the majority of the habitues of the 
shop was something that I could bear, for I felt that time was 
on my side, and that eventually everybody must realize the 
supremacy of Wagner. What really disturbed me was the 
indifference of the musicians and music-lovers around me to 
the moral values of art. Indeed, in argument, many of them 
denied that art, especially music, possessed moral values. 
Music, they contended, was music and nothing else. As for the 
interpreters of music, it was absurd to expect them (as they 
knew I did) to be more moralistic than ordinary people. I 
insisted that morality and idealism were implicit in the libret- 
tos and music of the operas of Richard Wagner, and that the 
interpreters of these operas must in turn become ennobled by 
them. I was ridiculed for holding these opinions. But Mr. Katz 
indulgently said that such beliefs were understandable in one 
so young as I. 

Mr. Katz was of a mundane disposition, though he would 
not deny the importance of Wagner. He was given tp telling 
off-color jokes and stories, which I pretended not to hear. On 
the subject of Wagnerian singers he held that they were no 
better morally than the artists whose specialty was Italian or 

Debut 3 5 1 

French opera. It was common knowledge, he said, that 

J-Jerr ( one o f t h e tenors of the Metropolitan's German 

wing) was an unmitigated lecher (Mr. Katz hastened to add 
that he himself had nothing against persons so disposed) . I 

spoke up in defense of Herr , whom, of course, I did not 

know. But I had seen and heard him as Lohengrin, and I 
could not believe that an artist who so convincingly expressed 
the pure emotions of that supernatural being could be a 
sensualist privately. More distressing was a casual remark 
Mr. Katz made one day after he returned from a matinee 
performance of Tannhauser, which I had also witnessed. I 
had been exalted by the artistry of my favorite Wagnerian 

soprano, Madame , in the role of the saintly Elisabeth. 

Mr. Katz agreed that she had given an excellent performance. 
Then, as an afterthought, and as if to himself, he said some- 
thing so destructive to my attribution of purity and innocence 

to Madame that tears came to my eyes and I was 

obliged to turn away to hide them. "She wouldn't be bad," 
Mr. Katz said, "in bed." 

Not all of Mr. Katz's customers were worldly, over- 
sophisticated, or morally callous. Some of the younger students 
were receptive of my philosophy of the close interrelation of 
art and life. If they lacked the boldness to abet me in the 
ideational disputes that raged in the store, I was nevertheless 
aware of their sympathy for me. I became friendly with two 
of these mute and timid adherents, Mike Dorf, a cellist, and 
Hymie Fink, a violinist. Mike lived in Cherry Street, a 
neighborhood once strictly Irish, but now more than half 
Jewish. He was thirteen years of age, a thin, lanky, long- 
faced boy in short pants. He lived with his widowed mother 
and earned his board and keep by playing odd jobs at weddings 
and balls. He himself had free lessons from a famous cellist 
who sat in the fifth cello stand in the Philharmonic Society 
Orchestra and lived uptown. Hymie Fink was a youth of 


about my own age, one of a large family of brothers and 
sisters. He had a round, absolutely untroubled face and wore 
his hair in a pompadour. He was extraordinarily agreeable, 
never voicing objections to anything I or anyone else pro- 

At my suggestion the three of us undertook to play chamber 
music. Mr. Katz kindly lent us a volume of trios by Reissigger, 
and one auspicious day we met at my house and essayed 
the first trio in the book. The session was both exciting and 
amusing. Not having practiced our parts individually, we 
frequently found ourselves helpless before intricate and 
difficult passages. We had ruled against taking time out for 
correction of individual mistakes, and we only stopped when 
one of us had lost his place. The resulting cacophony made 
us laugh, and drove my father from the house. Though I knew 
that chamber-music players abhorred leadership, I was, for 
once, in the gratifying position of being the guide of our trio. 
With the score before me, I could spot mistakes, advise my 
colleagues that they were behind or ahead, and call for repe- 
titions of passages in which we sounded at odds. As I played, 
I could not help contrasting my present decisive position with 
the abject secondary role I had played during my brief part- 
nership with Sol Rashkin. If only Sol Rashkin were around to 
hear rne call out: CC F sharp, Mike, not F natural," or "Hymie, 
you are two bars behind." 

Down at the Educational Alliance there was unusual activ- 
ity. A children's theater had been started by a rich uptown 
lady, and performances of Snow White and the Seven D<warf$ 
had been scheduled for the auditorium. In addition, the 
celebrated violin virtuoso, teacher, and conductor from up- 
town, Sam Franko, was forming an Educational Alliance 
string orchestra, with the twofold object of providing inciden- 
tal music for the performances of the children's theater and 
giving several orchestral concerts during the season. Mike and 
Hymie at once applied for membership in the orchestra and, 

Debut 353 

after an audition by Mr. Franko, were admitted to the class. 

After the first rehearsal they came to me with awesome 
tales of Mr. Franko's musicianship, his iron discipline and 
terrible temper. In fact, all they had done that evening was to 
play over and over again some scales in unison at a very slow 
tempo. It was, In effect, a free lesson, if one did not mind the 
abuse Mr. Franko heaped on practically all of the players. 
Sarcastic admonitions and downright insults had filled the 
room. Miss Yetta Garbash, the spinster lady from uptown 
who had created the children's theater and invited Mr, 
Franko (for the magnificent remuneration, it was reported, 
of twenty-five dollars each weekly session!) to form the 
orchestra, had been present at the rehearsal and, unable to 
bear the conductor's terrifying fulminations, had retreated 
from the room. 

At around ten thirty p.m., however, when the ordeal was 
over, Mr. Franko became affable, fraternized with the mem- 
bers of his orchestra, and invited all who cared to do so to 
walk with him to the Third Avenue el on Grand Street, where 
he would board a train for his home uptown. Mike and Hymie 
and eight or ten other players accompanied him to the el. 
Mr. Franko was in an expansive mood and, as he walked, 
spoke about eminent musicians he had known in the past and 
knew now. He himself had been a child prodigy and had 
traveled much in the civilized world. He had many positive 
ideas about music, among them the belief that mastery of 
scales was the true foundation of instrumental virtuosity. 

At the second rehearsal, a week later, Mr. Franko told the 
class that he required a young pianist to fortify the cello 
section, which consisted of Mike only, and to add harmonic 
body to the strings. Mike Dorf thereupon recommended me, 
and Mr. Franko asked him to bring me along the following 

The rehearsals were held in a high-ceilinged room that 
served as an art studio in the daytime. Its walls were covered 


with water-colors, oils, and drawings of East Side scenes and 
figures. Mr. Franko questioned me about my musical back- 
ground, and gave me a piano reduction of Schubert's "Un- 
finished" Symphony to read. I must have read to his satisfac- 
tion, for he said nothing. After putting the orchestra through a 
few slow scales, he said we would try the Schubert symphony. 
Mr. Franko was watchful and thorough to a degree I had 
never encountered in a teacher before. He stopped us inces- 
santly, suggested fingerings for tricky passages, and had them 
played in very slow tempo a number of times, accelerating 
the speed as the orchestra played more cleanly. Sometimes 
he would seize some player's violin and show how he wanted 
a passage or a phrase to sound. I was rather taken aback by 
the tone he produced. It was straight and dry, not at all like 
the lush, heartbreaking sounds Sol Rashkin used, with slow 
vibrato, to coax from his violin. Yet his playing was impres- 
sive for its precision and rhythm, though its want of sen- 
suousness seemed to me a denial of the genius of the instru- 

The Schubert symphony after a while began to take recog- 
nizable shape. I had never before heard it. It did not resemble 
any symphonies I knew. Its alternations of pure lyricism and 
violent drama were altogether novel. The oboe melody at the 
beginning was mine to play, and the effect of the melancholy 
phrase over the figuration in the strings was ravishing. I also 
helped out the cello with the lovely second theme. Mr. Franko 
found much fault with the intonation of the orchestra, which 
did not quite agree with the piano. He shouted a good deal and 
ordered everyone to tune to the piano A, which I boldly 
sounded. At length the ordeal (the evening had been an 
ordeal, notwithstanding the acute pleasure the music gave 
me) was over. Mr. Franko now assumed a pleasant benignity 
and invited us to walk with him to the elevated. I strode next 
to him. He said I read music fairly well, and asked the name 
of my teacher. When I confessed that I had none, he said he 

Debut 355 

would speak to his sister Jeanne about me. Jeanne Franko, he 
told us, had been a great pianist in her time and was now 
devoting herself to teaching. 

When we neared the elevated station, Mr. Franko suddenly- 
announced that he craved a glass of beer and a sandwich and 
invited us to join him. We were eight boys and one girl, nine 
in all. It seemed incredible that anyone should undertake the 
expense of such a generous invitation. Mr. Franko took our 
silence for assent, which it was, and marched us into Lorber's 
famous restaurant on Grand Street, directly opposite the 
Grand Street Theater, the very restaurant where the stars and 
actors of the Jewish theater supped nightly after performances. 
I had often in my childhood stood in front of it in the hope of 
catching a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Adler, Mr. and Mrs. 
Thomashefsky, Mr. Kessler, Mrs. Lipzin, and, best of all, 
Miss Bertha Kalich, whom I then secretly loved. 

Mr. Franko seemed to feel quite at home in Lorber's. At his 
behest waiters joined together three tables, around which he 
then disposed us, himself at the head. He ordered ten beers 
and ten Swiss cheese sandwiches! We drank and ate, following 
his lead. He spoke about conductors he had known and played 
under, about the great violinist Joachim and other luminaries, 
about the musical supremacy of Berlin and Vienna over New 
York. To these superior capitals he repaired each summer to 
relax from his winter labors and to immerse himself in the 
main stream of music. I listened, fascinated, and hoped he 
would stay till midnight; for apart from my interest in him 
and the European musicians he described, I wished to see at 
close hand the thespian celebrities who would arrive about 
that time. But this was not to be. For at eleven thirty Mr. 
Franko, after inquiring whether we would like something 
more to eat and drink which we politely refused called for 
his bill. This he examined carefully, even, to my embarrass- 
ment, disputing some items. Sitting immediately on his right, 
I could see for myself how costly the party had been. Finally 


Mr. Franko gave the waiter two dollar bills and told him to 
keep the change! 

The following week, on our now accustomed walk to the 
elevated, Mr. Franko told me he had spoken with his sister 
about me and had made an appointment for me to play for her 
the next day. Madam Franko lived on the first floor of a 
brownstone house on Madison Avenue between Sixty-first and 
Sixty-second streets. She opened the door to my ring and led 
me into a large, pleasantly furnished room. A light-colored 
upright piano stood against a wall, and above it hung numerous 
framed photographs of musical celebrities, each one per- 
sonally inscribed to Madam Franko. 

She looked middle-aged and was rather stout. Like her 
brother, she was brusque in speech and manner. After a few 
inquiries about my studies, she asked me to play. I played the 
Liszt transcription of the "Liebestod" from Tristan. When I 
finished, she made no comment about my playing, but offered 
to give me lessons. I told her that I was in no position at the 
moment to pay her, and she said that she was prepared to give 
me a scholarship. But I must play Wagner sparingly and con- 
centrate on the "old, good composers" and acquire a solid 
technique. My first assignment was to be Bach's Organ 
Prelude and Fugue in A minor in Liszt's arrangement. Madam 
Franko then went to the piano and played the composition 
from memory, with beautiful finger accuracy and a matter- 
of-factness that I could not help liking, though it gave the per- 
formance an air of aloofness foreign to my own approach to 
music. However, I read into her restriction on Wagner an 
animosity to that supreme composer and, for all I knew, to 
modernism itself, and I found myself resenting her lack of 
musical perspective. There could be, of course, no question 
of my abandoning Wagner. But my need for a solid technique 
was apparent to me too, and I accepted the scholarship grate- 
fully. Before I left, Madam Franko asked several direct 
questions about the economy of our household. And as I bade 


her good-by she said that if I practiced hard and followed her 
directions faithfully she could prophesy a fine musical career 
for me. 

Riding home on the streetcar, I gave myself up to visions 
of the future thus opened to me. How soon would it be before 
I would walk onto the stage of Carnegie Hall like De Pach- 
mann and be greeted by the applause of a packed house? I 
visualized my inscribed photograph among those of the 
celebrities on the wall over Madam Franko's piano. 

At home the news of Madam Franko's sponsorship and her 
hopes for my future created a sensation. And some weeks 
later an event occurred which confirmed Madam Franko's 
interest in me. When I reached home one afternoon after a 
long, heated argument at Katz's on the subject of Wagner 
contra Verdi, my mother told me that Madam Franko her- 
self had just paid her a visit. They had managed to converse, 
Madam Franko in German, my mother in Yiddish, and they 
had understood each other! Madam Franko had said that I 
was gifted but undisciplined, and that I held stubbornly to 
certain revolutionary opinions about music and society. 
Furthermore, I paid no attention to dress and had no manners, 
and much of an artist's success depended on dress and de- 
portment. She had noticed that I wore no gloves, and had 
bought me a pair, which she hoped I would accept and wear. 
The gloves were of beautiful, soft brown leather and bore a 
much-advertised trade-mark. I was not sure that I should ac- 
cept so personal a gift as an article of dress. But because the 
gloves were symbolic of my artistic possibilities, I decided to 
wear them, like a decoration. 

Under Madam Franko's tutelage my technique began to 
improve. Along with the music of Bach, now extended to in- 
clude the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, she 
gave me the least difficult preludes and waltzes of Chopin, 
and (I presumed as a conciliatory gesture) the Liszt arrange- 
ment of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner's Flying Dutch- 


man. Madam Franko intimated that she had nothing against 
Wagner's earlier works. They were, in the main, melodious. 
When it came to operatic lyricism, however, the Italians for 
her were supreme. 

For practice in sight reading, Madam Franko gave me a 
book of overtures arranged for four hands. Together we 
played the overtures to The Magic Flute, The Marriage of 
Figaro, Fidelio, and Bellini's Norrna. When we finished play- 
ing Norma, Madam Franko challenged me to cite any music 
of Wagner that could compare with it in beauty and no- 
bility. I promptly cited all the music dramas of Wagner and 
said heatedly that I found the overture to Norma neither noble 
nor beautiful. It was " barrel-organ music," and hardly fit to 
be mentioned in the same breath with the very least of Wag- 
ner's works. Madam Franko thereupon grew angry and 
called me an impertinent and ungrateful boy. I burst into tears 
and ran out of the house. I swore to myself that rather than 
abandon Wagner I would give up Madam Franko. But that 
evening when I arrived at the Educational Alliance for the 
orchestra rehearsal, Mr. Franko gave me a sealed note from 
his sister. "I will not permit your bad manners and ignorance 
to interfere with your work," it said. "I shall expect you at the 
usual time." I was relieved to receive what was obviously an 
apology. For in spite of my determination not to abandon 
Wagner, I could not bear the thought of abandoning my career 
as well. 

At my next lesson Madam Franko refrained from making 
any reference to Bellini. She talked about the progress I had 
made, and hoped that in a few months I would be ready to 
play for some of her influential friends. To prepare me for 
that event she would work with me on a recital program, and 
when I had mastered it she would arrange "an evening" at 
some "rich" house. The idea both attracted and repelled me. 
I saw the importance of a private concert as a test of my 
abilities. At the same time I felt an antagonism toward 

Debut 359 

Madam Franko's rich friends and resented the power she 
ascribed to them. I esteemed Madam Franko as an artist and 
pedagogue, but her social philosophy filled me with distaste. 
I was sensible of her kindness and appreciated her interest in 
me, but I suspected a condescension in her manner toward me. 
My mother, who had been impressed by Madam Franko's 
visit to Rivington Street ("She came all the way from up- 
town," my mother told Mollie Finkel with pride), her smart 
suit and elaborate hat, called her a "practical guardian angel" 
and entreated me not to offend her, but obey her in every- 
thing, as she meant everything for my good. 

For some time after the Bellini- Wagner episode nothing 
occurred to disturb our peaceful relations. I mapped out my 
day to the best advantage. It was my first attempt at self- 
discipline, and it afforded me a conscious pleasure. I practiced 
three hours in the morning, then walked the streets for an 
hour, reading a volume of Shelley as I walked and looking 
up only when I came to a crossing. People whom I bumped 
into as I read were invariably kind and polite when I apolo- 
gized. I lunched at home with Naomi Finkle. Naomi was well- 
read, but her taste in music, notwithstanding her brother's 
musical eminence as a member of the Metropolitan Opera 
House chorus, was lamentable. Like Madam Franko she loved 
the old-fashioned music of Verdi and Donizetti and regarded 
the music dramas of Wagner, even the early ones, as so much 
noise. Her favorite aria was "Ah^/ors* e lui" from La Traviata. 
I tried to expose its inanity by singing and playing it with 
mock pathos and exaggerated high spirits in the manner of a 
celebrated Metropolitan Opera coloratura soprano, but 
Naomi only laughed and reminded me that when we had first 
moved to Madison Avenue I, too, had loved Verdi and favored 
this very aria. 

Twice a week I embarked on my father's ice-cream 
"route," traveling as far afield as Brownsville and Rockaway 
Beach. I took books with me to read on the streetcars, and the 


hours passed quickly. Other afternoons I usually spent at 
Katz's, disputing with musical conservatives and die-hards 
and examining the music in the daily bundle that Mr. Katz 
or his helper brought from Schirmer's or Carl Fischer's. 
Beyer's Piano Method, Czerny's technical studies, the etudes 
of Heller, Burgmiiller, and so on formed the bulk of these daily 
packages. But occasionally someone would place an order for 
some new work, or Mr. Katz would invest in a copy of one 
as a proof of his enterprise and musical progressiveness. 

Thus it was that opening the bulky package one day I found, 
sandwiched unobtrusively between volumes of Clernenti and 
Kullak sonatinas, a paper-bound vocal score of an opera called 
Pelleas and Melisande, by the French composer Debussy. I had 
never heard or seen any music by Debussy, though I had 
read about the riot that occurred in a Paris concert hall on the 
occasion of the first performance of his orchestral tone poem 
The Afternoon of a Faun. I opened the score to the introduction, 
and my eyes saw and my mind heard harmonies so strange as 
to make me doubt the evidence of my sight and my inner ear. 
I took the book to the piano and played the opening, and the 
actual sounds were even stranger and more unsettling than 
those I had imagined. Strange, sad, and brooding were the 
phrases and the harmonies I played. The stage direction said 
the scene was a forest, and I felt my self actually wandering in 
a forest, but one unlike any I had seen myself or experienced 
in music. Only in dreams could one be lost and wander in such 
a vague, fateful, shut-in, uneasy wood. And in these mysterious 
depths, sunless and silent, the sobbing of Melisande sounded 
fragile, profound, and heartbreaking. It was a difficult score, 
and I was able to play only the simpler pages. But what I 
played and sang kindled my imagination and touched my heart. 
It blotted out, for the moment, the music of Wagner, which 
was ever-present to me. Yet it was too shadowy to vie for long 
with Wagner's music. In turn the opening bars of the Tristan 
Prelude dispelled the tenuous atmosphere of Pelleas and 

Debut 361 

Melisande and plunged me into a sea of unresolved yearning. 

But I returned frequently to Debussy, always a little uneasily, 
as if I feared being disloyal to Wagner. 

Miss Garbash's children's theater at the Educational Al- 
liance was proceeding with rehearsals of Snow White and the 
Seven Dwarfs on the small stage of the auditorium. A com- 
poser friend of Mr. Franko's had written entr'acte and inci- 
dental music for our orchestra. The auditorium had no or- 
chestra pit. We played on a small balcony to the right of the 
stage and close to the ceiling. Besides an opening number, the 
overture to The Caliph of Bagdad by Boieldieu, we had many 
cues to obey. "To horse, Otto, to horse! 77 spoken by the 
Prince who was to save Snow White from the evil designs of 
her stepmother, was our cue to play a short interlude indica- 
tive of a journey. An effect of hoofbeats was created by the 
rhythmic knocking together of two halves of a coconut shell 
backstage. Notwithstanding my passion for Wagner, I en- 
joyed the incidental music to Snow White, especially a mock- 
humorous "March of the Dwarfs" which accompanied the 
entrance of seven children clad as woodsmen and most care- 
fully graded as to size. This march was an instant hit with our 
audiences, and had to be repeated several times, the dwarfs 
exiting each time at a signal from someone in the wings, and 
coming out again to the first notes of the encored march. The 
admission fee was ten cents, yet the house was always sold 

During this and the following season the repertoire of the 
children's theater included Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little 
Princess, by the same author, and Mark Twain's The Prince 
and the Pauper. Looking back, I am somewhat at a loss to ac- 
count for the pleasure I took in these representations. For at 
the very same time I was absorbed in the plays of Shakespeare, 
Ibsen, and Shaw. I had long since given up the Jewish theater 
as juvenile, mediocre, and consciously sensational. I was deep 


in the novels of Tolstoy, Turgeniev, Dostoievsky, Gogol, 
Zola, Flaubert, Thackeray, and George Eliot. Yet I never 
missed a rehearsal of the children's theater, even when the 
orchestra was not required to play. 

Sitting In the empty auditorium, I felt 1 was the velvet-clad 
Fauntleroy. I could never call my mother "dearest" instead of 
"mother" as Fauntleroy did his, but only because mine, though 
just as lovable, was not as gentle and refined. The cruelty 
visited on Sarah Crewe affected me deeply; and the wonderful 
scene in which her benefactor transforms with rich hangings 
her shabby little attic room into a princess's bower always 
brought tears to my eyes. While it was inevitable for justice 
and mercy to triumph, the triumph was also beautifully un- 
expected, like the startling C major opening of the finale of 
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. So, too, the denouement of 
The Prince and the Pauper was aesthetically, morally right an d, 
at the same rime, surprising. 

At the opening performance Mark Twain himself sat in the 
front row. Dressed all in white, his wavy hair a yellowish 
white, he looked pleasantly old and vividly handsome. After 
the performance he came backstage and we were all presented 
to him. He seemed to me very much at ease for so celebrated 
a man. I had expected him to behave somewhat haughtily, as I 
would have done in his position. But he spoke to us as to 
equals. I could not help feeling let down. 

Many celebrated people from uptown came to see the pro- 
ductions of the children's theater. The climax of these visits 
was undoubtedly the arrival, one Sunday matinee, of the 
great Jacob Schiff. We had received word of his forthcoming 
visit some days before and were concerned to be well prepared 
for the honor. But it was hard to believe that we would 
eventually see Jacob Schiff in the flesh, for Jacob Schiff was a 
legend among Jews everywhere in the world, and especially 
on the East Side of New York. To my father his name was 
the supreme symbol of Jewish affluence, power, and ortho- 

Debut 363 

doxy. It eclipsed, for him, such Old World representatives of 
the Jews as the Rothschilds, the Herzels, the Baron Guns- 
bergs. Among the things that Jacob SchifF proved, my father 
maintained, was the comparability of business success with re- 
ligion. Avoiding doing business on the Sabbath, Jacob SchifF 
had yet been able to amass many millions. He could be the 
leading banker of the world without forgetting his obligations 
to his coreligionists. He was indeed a rarity. And it was not 
hard to understand why God continued to shower prosperity 
on him. 

The Sunday matinee finally arrived. A few minutes before 
the curtain went up on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there 
was a commotion in the auditorium, and Jacob Schiff and his 
party, followed by the top dignitaries of the Educational Al- 
liance, entered and took their seats in a row that had been 
roped off for them. The performance went unusually well. 
The actors and the musicians had never acted and played so 
well. After the play Jacob Schiff came on the stage and con- 
gratulated the artists. He was short and had a small beard and 
looked imposing, and, unlike Mark Twain, he seemed to 
know his importance. I had never before met a millionaire, 
and I half expected to see on his person some evidence of his 
wealth. My father, too, must have had some such illusion, for 
that night at home he questioned me closely about the ap- 
pearance and habiliments of Jacob Schiff. My mother, on the 
other hand, seemed more interested in Mrs. Schiff, of whom I 
had little to relate, my own attention having been entirely 
centered on Mr. Schiff. 

My father made great social capital out of his son's "meet- 
ing," as he called my handshake, with the great man, as in- 
deed I myself did in the houses of our friends and relatives. 
I believe I embroidered the "meeting" even more than my 
father did, going so far as to retail a conversation I had with 
Jacob Schiff alone in a sequestered comer of the stage, on the 
subject of his refusal to lend the Tsar of Russia a large sum of 


money because of the pogroms that had occurred in Kishinev 
and other Russian cities. The newspapers had played up 
Jacob SchifPs humanitarian decision, so I felt myself on pretty 

safe ground. 

Mr. Franko's orchestra played a secondary role in the 
representation of the children's theater. However, it was his 
plan, when we should have become fairly proficient as an en- 
semble, to demonstrate our progress by a concert of our own 
in the auditorium. He now declared that we were about ready 
to appear in public. Our orchestra had given one public con- 
cert in the Educational Alliance auditorium. But that was in the 
nature of a public rehearsal, and no admission was charged. 
One of Mr. Franko's best students, a girl of fourteen, had been 
the soloist, playing the first movement of Mendelssohn's 
Violin Concerto. There being no printed reduction of the 
orchestral accompaniment to the concerto for a string en- 
semble like ours, Madam Franko offered to accompany the 
young lady on the piano. Now, the piano "tuttis" of the 
Mendelssohn are extremely difficult to play, and on the day 
of the concert Madam Franko, veteran though she was, suc- 
cumbed to justifiable nervousness. When the concert was 
about to begin, she took me aside and commanded me to sit out 
front during the concerto and applaud vociferously the mo- 
ment the piano came in with a tutti, and to keep on applauding 
until the next entrance of the violin. This I did zealously, the 
audience following my lead, so that all of Madam Franko's 
solos were drowned in the tumultuous noises out front. 

The proposed concert before a paying audience assumed an 
immense significance for me when Mr. Franko designated me 
as the soloist in Mozart's D minor Concerto, which I was then 
studying with Madam Franko. Mr. Franko had discovered a 
reduction of the orchestral portion for strings, I was, then, to 
make my public debut accompanied by an orchestra! Nothing 
could have been more gratifying. Most of the great artists 

Debut 365 

before the public had made their debuts with orchestra, and 
from that springboard had leaped into fame and gone on to 
triumphal recital appearances. Besides the implications of such 
a debut, there was for me the anticipation of playing over our 
orchestra instead of under it, as I had been doing. Three 
months were to elapse before I would take my place at a grand 
piano placed at the edge of the stage, with the orchestra be- 
hind me certainly a long interval to endure with patience, 
but, I felt, a necessary one if the professionalism Mr. Franko 
desired was to be attained. Besides my concerto, the orchestra 
had a long program to learn. Among the purely orchestral 
numbers were Gluck's overture to Iphigenla in Aulis, the first 
movement of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, Loin du 
Ball, a sonata for strings by Pergolesi, Grieg's Peer Gynt 
Suite, Heart Throbs, and an arrangement of Binding's Rustle of 
Spring. My solo would come before the intermission. 

In preparation for the great event, Madam Franko arranged 
for me to practice on a grand piano at the Steinway Building 
on Fourteenth Street. I had not played a grand piano since my 
last visit to Mr. Plesch's house in Bay Ridge, now so long ago, 
and I was surprised and annoyed at the intractability of the 
elongated ebony instrument that was assigned to me in a large 
back room of Steinway Hall. I was further disconcerted by 
the sounds that issued from other rooms, where unseen players 
were testing pianos sounds of pearly scales, impeccable 
octaves, and snatches, professionally executed, of familiar 
passages from Chopin and Liszt. My competitors seemed to 
be all over the building, and my heart sank at the distance I 
still had to travel to match their proficiency. There was some- 
thing malevolently human in the resistance of the piano keys to 
my fingers. The sounds I expected to hear I could not, try as 
I would, coax from them. The scales and passages that I 
played with ease on my upright piano at home refused to 
emerge at the level of my accustomed pressure. I had to dig 
into the keys to elicit any semblance of a respectable tone. I 


voiced my despair and frustration to Madam Franko, who 
offered no false consolation and said that a good grand piano 
was a beast that had to be tamed. 

.Madam Franko thought it prudent to prepare at least two 
encores, which she thought the public was sure to demand after 
my performance of the concerto. I myself had doubts about 
the necessity for encores, but there was that in the manner in 
which she made the suggestion which assured me the necessity 
would arise, regardless of the success or failure of the concerto 
with the audience. I thereupon selected Chopin's Nocturne in 
F sharp and Mendelssohn's "Spinning Song" to play in that 
order a slow piece to follow the rapid finale of the Mozart 
concerto and a very fast piece before, bowing and smiling and 
helplessly stretching out my arms to the audience, I retired 
to the wings for good. (I had taken note of the behavior of 
soloists with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra.) 

Madam Franko had induced the Steinways, with whom she 
appeared to be on the most intimate footing, to ship my 
practice piano, which I was also to use at the concert, to the 
Educational Alliance a whole week in advance, so that I might 
get used to its sound in the auditorium and make what modi- 
fications of tone the participation of the orchestra might, in re- 
hearsals, necessitate. In three months I had, if not conquered 
the " beast," at least managed to tame him to the point that I 
no longer feared him. Still, when at the first rehearsal of the 
concerto with the orchestra I took my seat in front of the 
piano, its lid raised high up on a stick, I was again gripped by 
fear of what it might attempt against me at this crucial mo- 

The orchestra finished the first tutti. From his podium Mr. 
Franko looked down at rne critically. Madam Franko watched 
me from a seat in the front row of the auditorium. I rubbed my 
hands together as I had seen .soloists do before starting. They 
were damp. The huge instrument, massive and sullen, chal- 
lenged me. Mr. Franko tapped his music stand impatiently 

Debut 367 

with his baton and said: "Well?" I could hesitate no longer, 
and I began the lovely quiet first theme. The smallness of the 
sound that came back to me was disconcerting. In the room in 
Steinway Hall my tone had at last grown ample. From the 
corner of my eye I saw Madam Franko making signs to me 
to put weight into my fingers. I proceeded to bear down more 
heavily on the keys, and the signs subsided. 

Suddenly I felt at ease. The orchestra had come in with the 
introductory theme very softly, and my fingers were weaving 
a musical embroidery over it. Both piano and orchestra grew 
louder, more intense. I experienced a joy I had never before 
known. I was a craft sailing on an unpredictable sea. At one 
moment the sea was turbulent, at one moment calm, but the 
bark was strong and flew along confidently. When the or- 
chestra ceased on the chord that was the signal for my 
cadenza, I did not feel the nervousness I had anticipated for 
the moment when, unaided, I must plunge into a maelstrom of 
scales, arpeggios, and trills. The cadenza went! And at the end 
of the movement the orchestra put aside their instruments and 
applauded. Mr. Franko nodded approvingly and Madam 
Franko smiled. 

That very day, emerging from the Educational Alliance, 
my heart almost stopped beating as I beheld my name on a 
painted sign announcing the concert. There it was, in large, 
bold letters: 



I could not tear myself away from the sign. And, indeed, 
I managed to pass the Educational Alliance several times each 
day, in the company, if I could manage it, of some friend or 
acquaintance. I took my mother to see it, and she in turn in- 
vited relatives and neighbors to view it with her. 


As soloist I'was entitled to four complimentary tickets for 
the concert. Our auditorium had no boxes, else I should cer- 
tainly have been given one. I had heard that each soloist with 
the Philharmonic Society Orchestra was given a box at 
Carnegie Hall. One ticket would go to Molly, who had long 
before been apprised of my forthcoming debut and had made 
plans to leave Waterbury on the morning of the concert and 
return In the evening. The day being a Sunday, her husband 
would be at home to look after Walt Whitman. Hannah would 
leave her child in the care of Jacob. My other two tickets I 
reserved for my mother and father. My father had showed an 
unusual interest in the concert, and had even been seen point- 
ing out my name on the painted sign to his cronies from the 
synagogue. My sister Sarah bought two tickets for herself and 
her bosom friend, Ella, a young lady who, though unprepos- 
sessing in appearance, was one of my most devoted admirers 
as a pianist. The sale at the box office, where I made frequent 
inquiries, was gratifying. Children under ten were admitted 
free if accompanied by a ticket-holder; in consequence the 
concert attracted many mothers who could not leave their 
infants unattended at home. 

Early on the morning of the day of the concert I awoke 
violently from a dream in which, sitting at a grand piano In 
Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra be- 
hind me, I lost all memory of the composition I was about to 
play and was quite unable to begin. Relieved to find it only a 
dream, but still apprehensive, I ran in my underwear to the 
piano to test my memory. I probed the concerto for elusive 
spots, and to my almost hysterical relief I played it through 
without flaw or hesitation. Madam Franko had warned me to 
practice only sparingly on the day of the concert. I had heard 
that artists like De Pachmann, Paderewski, and Hofmann 
contented themselves with running through a few scales on 
the day of their concerts. Like them I must conserve my 
powers for the actual performance. Yet I was unable to hold 

Debut 369 

to this resolve. For suddenly, several times during the morn- 
ing, I recalled my dream, and panic seized me, and I could not 
remember what passage followed a certain modulation. Until 
the moment of my departure for the hall, I was constantly at 
the piano. Even as I left the house I was assailed by misgivings 
and ran back for a final look at the music. 

I was escorted to the Educational Alliance by an honor 
guard consisting of Mike Dorf and Hyman Fink. They, 
realizing that I was nervously going through the concerto in 
my mind, kept respectfully silent, taking care to steer me 
safely through the Sunday crowds on the streets, for I stared 
into space as I walked, seeing only notes before my eyes. 
Though the concert was still two hours away, when we 
reached the Educational Alliance there was a line of people 
that began at the East Broadway entrance and stretched around 
the corner into Jefferson Street. Young people, mothers with 
babies in their arms, old men and women were pushing and 
shoving to get into the hall, for there were no reserved seats. 
No one appeared to recognize me, though my name on the 
poster stared them in the face! I wondered at that as I entered 
the building and made my way to the stage. The curtain was 
down, but I could hear the noise and clamor of the people 
rushing for seats. I sat down at the piano and began to practice 
softly. A moment later (so it seemed) the members of the or- 
chestra appeared and took their places and I was asked to 
sound the A. Somebody clapped his hands for silence, the 
curtain went up. Mr. Franko emerged from the wings to great 
applause, bowed stiffly, turned to us, and gave the downbeat 
for the overture to Iphigenia in Aulis. Next came Schubert's 
"Unfinished" Symphony. My time was drawing near. My 
hands felt quite cold. Why hadn't I thought of soaking them in 
hot water as Josef Hofmann always did before he came out 
to play? 

Mr. Franko went into the wings after the Schubert, and 
three violinists and I shoved the piano down front to the very 


edge of the stage. Then I raised the lid. There was a burst of 
applause as I sat down and began adjusting the height of the 
stool. As I did so, I glanced at the auditorium and saw every- 
one I knew or had ever known. In that frightening moment I 
recognized members of my family Molly, Hannah, my 
mother, my father in his shiny stovepipe (evidently he con- 
sidered my debut a serious occasion) , Chaie Rive Flayshig and 
the twins (my mother must have bought her a ticket), Zalman 
Reich and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Gold of Passaic (how did 
they know?), the Finkle girls, and Harry Finkle from the 
Metropolitan Opera House chorus. More formidable, and 
disturbing to me, were Miss Taffel, my very first piano 
teacher, Montana, the celebrated pedagogue, the baritone 
Beniamino Burgo, Mr. Katz, I. Jacobs, and Sol Rashkin, the 
violinist and my erstwhile tormentor. Unlike my family and 
friends, they would be highly critical. And there sat Madam 
Franko in the middle of the first row, right below the piano, 
stony-faced, grim, alert. For comfort I shifted my gaze to my 
mother, Hannah, and Molly. They looked back at me eagerly, 
smilingly. Evidently they did not realize what was at stake. I 
shut out all other thoughts and concentrated on the loving- 
kindness they signaled to me with their eyes. 

Mr. Franko returned and stood on the podium a little in 
front of me to the left. An ominous silence fell on the audi- 
torium like a pall, made more terrible by the sudden cry of an 
infant calling cc Marnma! Mamma!" Mr. Franko turned his 
head sternly toward the disturbance and waited. Silence again 
became painfully palpable. After an eternity Mr. Franko 
raised his stick. After another his arm descended and from 
behind rne came the soft opening syncopated D minor chords 
of the concerto. I played at the right moment, a little timidly. 
My fear about not coming in at the right moment had been 
groundless! The broken octaves in the left hand went better. 
I began to grow confident. My playing sounded. I could hear 
the full round tones as they glanced off the raised polished- 

Debut 3 7 1 

ebony sounding-board of the piano. Long before the cadenza, 
I felt at ease. And as the orchestra swung into the preparatory 
tutti, I boldly looked down at Madam Franko and read ap- 
proval in her eyes. I was conscious, in the midst of the intri- 
cacies of the cadenza, that I was feeling pleasure. 

Nevertheless, the vociferous applause that greeted the end 
of the movement caught me unawares. I looked down trying to 
remember whether an artist bowed after each movement or 
only after the last. The applause persisted, and I glanced at 
Madam Franko for guidance. Madam Franko's eyes were 
puckered shrewdly, and she was applauding with the rest. 
She was, in fact, leading the applause; for when it showed 
signs of abating, she clapped wildly and infectiously, and 
everybody followed suit. It was at the height of this demon- 
stration that she motioned me to rise and bow, and when I did 
she led the crowd into an even more shattering outburst. 

Thenceforward I was in full command of myself. At the 
end of the concerto I did not forget to rise and shake hands 
with Mr. Franko as I had been told to do by Madam Franko. 
I had also been told to insist on Mr. Franko taking several 
bows with me. But that was not necessary, for Mr. Franko 
volunteered to accompany me from the wings three times. He 
then sent me out alone to play my encores. These, too, came 
off well, and at Madam Franko's insistence I was obliged to 
add the "Minute" Waltz to the C sharp minor Nocturne and 
the "Spinning Song." When I took my final bow, my sister 
Sarah advanced to the stage and held up a bouquet of four roses 
wrapped in a Jewish newspaper. I was completely taken by 
surprise. I had, in the excitement, quite forgotten the hope I 
had cherished that someone would give me flowers over the 
footlights. I would have bent down and kissed Sarah for her 


kindness and extravagance (nobody ever bought flowers) . But 
the stage was too high from the floor of the hall for me to 
make the attempt. 

Later, after the end of the concert, I kissed Sarah backstage, 


and on learning that the bouquet was a joint offering of herself 
and Ella, I also kissed her plain but generous friend. But I 
had little time to devote to them, for the stage was filled to 
suffocation with my friends and relatives, the friends and rela- 
tives of the orchestra, and some smartly clad uptown people 
who had come as the guests of the Frankos. Madam Franko 
took me aside, shook my hand, and said that she was glad her 
work had not been in vain, and that I must never minimize 
the importance of thinking things out in advance in the build- 
ing of a career. Even applause, she whispered, must not be left 
to chance. Mr. Katz slapped me on the back as if I was a man 
of his own age, called me a credit to his store, and asked me 
to drop into his shop in the evening, where we could further 
discuss the momentous event of the day. He had also invited 
Burgo, Montana, I. Jacobs, and some others. 

I was congratulated on all sides. The celebrated Montana 
spoke in broken English about the beauty of my tone, and 
I. Jacobs threw his arms around me and said we must play 
four-hands together. Even Sol Rashkin made his way to nie 
through the crowd and said: "Why didn't you play like that in 
Kiamesha?" in a very loud voice. Sarah had whispered to me 
that the rest of the family had gone on home to greet the many 
friends and relations who were coming to congratulate me and 
partake of refreshments. When I had spoken to everyone on 
the stage I knew, Mike and Hymie hurried me out of the 
building and led me triumphantly home. Unlike our previous 
journey to the Educational Alliance, this return was filled with 
talk and laughter all the way to Rivington Street. 

The house was full of people and had the festive air of a 
wedding. I learned to my sorrow that Molly had waited for 
me until the last moment and had just left in time to catch the 
train for Waterbury. My father solemnly kissed me and intro- 
duced me to three bearded old men from his synagogue. The 
look on his face said plainly that he recognized the prestige I 
had created for him, but was dubious about its ultimate practi- 

Debut 373 

cal value. My mother and Hannah were restrained in their at- 
tentions to me, for -which I was grateful. My mother herself 
was the recipient of congratulatory embraces. People came 
up to her, nodded their heads toward me, and said succinctly: 
c Wz/. ? " and my mother, easily grasping the flattering implica- 
tion, smiled radiantly, showing her dazzling white rows of 
false teeth and echoing the exclamation affirmatively. 

Pesach \vine and taeglech were passed around. Someone 
broke into a Chassidic song of a jolly nature. It was a tune 
well known to everybody, and soon others joined in, clapping 
their hands in rhythm. One of the bearded men, overcome by 
the Pesach wine and his own emotions, executed a Chassidic 
dance, vainly trying to force my mother to be his vis-a-vis. 
All at once I felt a longing to be at Katz's store in the company 
of fellow musicians, to drink in knowledgeable words of 
praise, to bask in the adulation of colleagues, to be a part of 
the real world. The longing was like an ache that throbbed 
with increasing intensity. Did I dare leave the house at this 
moment? My mother would grieve. The guests would not 
understand. I would be like a groom stealing away alone in the 
midst of the wedding festivities. 

But Hannah understood when I told her how I felt. She 
agreed to make up some plausible excuse and urged me to go 
at once. I ran down the stairs two at a time. On the way to 
East Broadway I began to feel ashamed of what I had done, 
and thought of returning before my absence could be noticed. 
But when I opened the door of Katz's music store and beheld 
the familiar company leaning against the counter, the diminu- 
tive form and shrewd, eager face of the proprietor behind it, 
and heard voices loud in argument about music, I forgot my 
home and all the people in it. 


The text of this book was set on the Monotype in JAN- 
SON, a recutting made direct from the type cast from 
matrices made by Anton Janson. Whether or not Jan- 
son was of Dutch ancestry is not known, but it is 
known that he purchased a foundry and was a practic- 
ing type-founder in Leipzig during the years 1600 to 
1687. Janson's first specimen sheet was issued in 1675. 
His successor issued a specimen sheet showing all of 
the Janson types in 1689. 

His type is an excellent example of the influential and 
sturdy Dutch types that prevailed in England prior to 
the development by William Caslon of his own in- 
comparable designs, which he evolved from these 
Dutch faces. The Dutch in their turn had been influ- 
enced by Garamond in France. The general tone of 
Janson, however, is darker than Garamond and has a 
sturdiness and substance quite different from its pred- 
ecessors. It is a highly legible type, and its individual 
letters have a pleasing variety of design. Its heavy and 
light strokes make it sharp and clear, and the full-page 
effect is characterful and harmonious. 

This book was composed, printed, and bound by 
KINGSPORT PRESS, INC., Kingsport, Tennessee. Paper 
supplied by s. D. WARREN COMPANY, Boston, Massa-